Chicago Schools Require Recess, and Every Other School Should, Too

In August 2011, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) announced that recess would be mandatory in every elementary school in the CPS system starting in 2012. While other states have passed laws regarding recess, some still do not require any type of activity beyond physical education. Is it time that all states mandate time for recess in elementary and even middle schools?

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recess playtime chicago CPS

Some States Afford Children a Break

New core curriculum standards issued by the federal government do not include any guidelines regarding recess, leaving this decision up to each individual state or school district. CPS is just one of several districts in the country to create their own mandates regarding what some say is a much-needed break from daily studies.

Unfortunately, not all schools make time for this important part of the school day. According to the most recent study by the Centers for Disease Control, conducted in 2006, only 11% of states and just under 60% of school districts required recess for elementary schools.

Arkansas, Oklahoma, Michigan and Texas are among a few states that adopted legislation regarding recess years ago. Connecticut mandated daily recess for students in grades K-6 in 2010. And Arizona made minimum recess requirements a state law for the 2009-10 school year.

But in some cases tougher curricula, space issues and pushes for longer instruction time has led to an uphill battle for the return of recess.

'No Child Left Behind' Left Recess Behind

Some trace the decline in recess to President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Dr. Romina M. Barros, the principal investigator of a 2009 study at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine at Yeshiva University, told Science Daily in January 2009, 'Many schools responded to No Child Left Behind by reducing the time for recess, the creative arts, and physical education in an effort to focus on reading and mathematics.'

Perhaps fueled by the rise in childhood obesity and First Lady Michelle Obama's focus on child health, recess may be poised for a much-needed and highly-recommended comeback despite the obstacles some schools may need to overcome.

On Their Best Behavior

Some studies have been conducted indicating that providing recess for children leads to better behavior. The 2009 study at Yeshiva University concluded that children who had recess scored better on behavioral tests than those who had no recess.

The study also stated that recess helped students to better manage stress, become more social, expend pent-up energy, develop cognitive skills, concentrate better in class and improve overall health. In light of the study, some schools discourage punishing students who have misbehaved by keeping them from participating in recess.

Parents Get Vocal

Besides experts and researchers who stress the physical and mental benefits of recess, there is perhaps no bigger proponent of unstructured play in schools than parents.

It was lobbying by parents that helped to get mandated recess in some schools in Chicago. In Pinellas County, Florida in April, 2011 a mother petitioned to have Florida schools require mandatory 30-minute recess. And the nonprofit organization Playworks, which supports physical activity in schools, provides tips on its website about how parents can fight to restore recess in their children's schools.

So, with medical experts, researchers, teachers, school administrators, nonprofit organizations, parents and even the First Lady all speaking out about the importance and benefits of physical activity, one could well imagine that the roughly 40% of schools that do not currently provide this time for their students will bend to the pressure and simply let kids be kids.

At least for 15 minutes a day.

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