Monday, April 14, 2014

Who Gets Recess? Congress But Not Elementary School Children

Congress is on recess and House Majority Whip, Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has some homework for his Republican colleagues. Politico reports that McCarthy wants his fellow members to visit charter schools in their districts to highlight the Republican position on school choice. I have my own ideas of what these Republican congresspersons can do on recess. What follows is the only one that is printable (but one of the others was a pleasing play on the term "whip").

Congressperson, instead of spending your recess time visiting charter schools, why not visit some actual public schools and talk to some actual certified, experienced professional educators and ask them why children in these schools have no recess. I hope you would also ask what the impact is of no recess for these young children.

There is something fundamentally wrong in this country when we send our legislative leaders off on a two week recess and yet we deny recess to our school aged children.

This topic is on my mind right now because last week I visited a K-5 school in northern New Jersey that has no recess in its schedule. It will not surprise you that this school district has more than 80% minority population, 74% economically disadvantaged and 16% limited English proficient. These children are from minority families, the majority are poor and what does the Recess Nazi have to say to them? "No recess for you." The move away from recess has been particularly evident in districts serving poor students. Not ten miles from where the school I visited sits, I drove past children in a leafy, suburban school playing outside in the mid-afternoon.

Here are some startling facts from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC):

  • 39% of African American kids do not have recess compared to 15% of White kids
  • 44% of kids living below the poverty line do not have recess compared to 17% of those living above the poverty line

Why no resess for poor and minority kids? Many schools over the past 10 years have moved away from providing recess for children as the mania for high stakes testing has increased. The reasoning would appear to be that recess is a frill that our six-year-olds cannot be afforded if we are going to successfully compete with Finland. But the NAEYC could find no research that indicated that test scores could be improved by eliminating recess and providing more instructional time See this report:
https://www.naeyc.org/files/yc/file/200909/On%20Our%20Minds%20909.pdf .

Is there any research that shows recess has a positive impact on children? As my friends in Minnessota would say, "You betcha'." Here is a sampling.

  1. Children are less fidgety and more on task when they have recess.
  2. Children learn best when learning is spaced out, not concentrated. Recess provides cognitive breaks.
  3. Brain research has found a connection between cognitive functioning and physical activity.
  4. On the playground children learn games from each other, learn to cooperate and learn to negotiate to resolve conficts.
  5. Recess before lunch leads to healthier eating.
  6. Children who are active during the day, are more active in the evening.


Public education has always been about educating, to the best of our abilities, the whole child. Part of that whole child education is the learning that takes place during recess. Ask yourself, should a daily recess be just another advantage that children in more affluent areas have over their poorer and minority peers, or is recess an inetgral part of all children's education? Of course, perhaps the bigger question is, should the pursuit of higher standardized test scores be driving decision making in any public schools? But let's save that discussion for another day.

For  now, let's all insist (teachers, principals, parents) that children get the chance for recess in every public elementary school everyday. And by the way, if you happen to see your congressperson while s/he is on recess, remind her/him that you want the same rights to recess for your children that they seem to want for themselves.