Mandatory Recess to Return to Chicago Public Schools

Many studies have stressed the importance of play time for young children. However, new government core curriculum standards do not include recess, and many schools across the country do not offer recess to elementary school students. In Chicago, that's about to change.

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The Importance of Play

A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics published in 2007 stressed the benefits of play for healthy child development, benefiting mental, physical and emotional growth. Numerous other studies echo these findings.

Advocates of play say that learning to develop and adhere to rules through playing allow children to learn problem-solving and decision-making skills. And playground equipment provides the ideal environment for the development of gross motor skills.

Go Play. . .and That's an Order!

In May 2011, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) encouraged schools to re-instate recess, leaving the decision up to each individual school. By August, that suggestion had become a mandate for every institution in the CPS system for the 2012-13 school year.

CPS' new chief executive officer, Jean-Claude Brizard, told the Huffington Post Chicago on August 9th: 'By next fall, all schools - all elementary schools in the city - will have recess.' It's a mandate that would have come a year earlier had Brizard, who took over in April, not come into his position too late to make the change.

All Work and No Play

Less than half of schools in the CPS system currently have any form of recess. And 27% have recess only in the classroom, with no outdoor activities (only 15% have outdoor recess). Why such a lack of what some would call crucial physical activity?

Prior to the 1970s, Chicago schools had a 45-minute lunch period during the day in addition to two 10-minute recess sessions. With schools becoming concerned for the safety of those children who went home for lunch, CPS switched the 45-minute teacher lunch to after school and instituted a 20-minute student lunch.

As a result of the switch from an 'open campus' to a 'closed campus' format, the recesses were taken away, with the new lunch time a combination of the two 10-minute breaks.

Recess Needed for Longer Days

The need for recess has become more of an issue as CPS strives to lengthen school days in order to gain more instructional time. The Chicago Tribune reported in April that, compared to other schools across the nation, city schools had more than one hour less instructional time and ten less school days during the academic year.

Kathy Cowan, a member of the National Association of School Psychologists, is one of many advocates who acknowledges the need for increased instructional time, but notes that 'diminished returns' could be expected should students not be offered recess breaks during longer school days.

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