Recess Cuts: A Growing Trend in the United States

People have often debated how they use the time of children for best. Should children work? Should children study? Should children play? In developed countries, the consensus is that children should study and play. However, the most beneficial ratio of time spent playing to time spent studying is still hotly debated. In recent years, as many elementary schools have reduced or eliminated recess, this debate has grown even more intense.

Why Recess is Being Cut

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 26 per cent of high school seniors had writing levels that were below basic in 2002. Also in 2002, 25 per cent of eighth graders had reading levels below basic. In 2000, 34 per cent of eighth graders had math levels below basic. Minority students and students who live in lower class areas are most likely to have low reading, writing, and math skills.

In an attempt to rectify this problem, President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act on January 8, 2002. The NCLB act forces schools to be accountable for the quality of education that they provide. Individually, students must take and pass standardised tests to prove that they have learned the basic English and math skills appropriate for their grade level. Schools that do not show significant improvement, according to test score results, will be required to provide supplemental services, such as tutoring. Students have the option to attend better-performing schools.

Although the NCLB act does not suggest that schools cut or reduce recess, this has been a typical reaction. Schools are under a great deal to meet the standards set forth by the NCLB act; additional class time sometimes seems as imperative, and recess is the most accessible program to cut.

Additionally, recess often raises concerns over safety. According to the Children’s Safety Network, most injuries to young students occur on the playground. It makes sense; the recess is unstructured and often under supervised. During recess, children play, often quite recklessly, on large, tall pieces of equipment, such as slides, swings, and monkey bars. Bullying also frequently occurs on playgrounds. Physical education classes offer a safer environment in which children can exercise, leading some school officials to believe that cutting recess is a good option.

Where Recess Cuts Are Occurring

According to the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play, 40 per cent of schools in the US are reducing or eliminating recess or considering recess cuts. For example, Creighton Elementary School in Phoenix Arizona, elementary schools in Clark Country School District in Nevada, and elementary schools in the Tacoma School District in Washington have all cut or eliminated recess. New elementary schools in Atlanta, Georgia doesn’t have playgrounds.

Backlash Against Recess Cuts

The backlash against recess cuts has been phenomenal. The fight against recess cuts is not new; however, the recent trend towards recess cuts has caused the protest to increase considerably.

In 1961, the International Association for the Child’s Right to play formed in Denmark. As the name suggests, the association’s goal is to ensure that children retain the right to playtime; the association adamantly advocates the need for recess. The American Association for the Child’s Right to Play formed in 1973. In 1989, the United Nations’ Convention of the Right of the Child adopted Article 31, which states that children have the right to rest, leisure, play, and recreational activities. This article is often used by the International and American Associations for the Child’s Right to Play to support recess. Other organisations, including the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education, have taken a pro-recess stance as well.

Some states have made efforts to mandate recess. In the Georgia General Assembly, House Bill 1013, which would make recess obligatory, has been proposed. Likewise, the Parent Teacher Association of Washington’s Tacoma School District has released a Proposed Recess Policy that calls for a mandatory recess. The actions in Georgia and Tacoma were both in response to local recess cuts.

In other states, attempts to mandate recess have already been successful. Connecticut has passed a bill mandating recess. In 2000, Michigan’s State Board of Education released the Policies for Creating Effective Learning Environments; this policy mandates daily recess or a period of physical activity for elementary and middle school children.

The Benefits of Recess

The backlash against recess cuts has several benefits that recess offers. Childhood obesity is a growing problem. According to the Surgeon General, some adolescents who are overweight has tripled in the past two decades. The Surgeon General recommends that children get at least sixty minutes of physical activity on most days of the week.

Although physical education classes do provide children with an opportunity to exercise, most children will not get enough exercise from physical education classes alone. Additionally, many children do not have the facilities, time, or motivation to exercise after school. The recess can provide children with the extra exercise they need.

In addition to preventing obesity, exercising during recess may also help students pay attention during class. In 1993, Pelligrini and Davis published the results of a study on the effects of recess on classroom behaviour. The results showed that many students build up excess energy and may become fidgety and unable to concentrate during class when denied the opportunity to exercise during recess. Additionally, the California Department of Education conducted a study that showed that children who are physically active score higher on the Stanford Achievement Test. If this is true, then schools that are cutting recess to increase class time and raise standardised test scores may be doing more harm than good.

The unstructured nature of recess has its benefits, too. During recess, children can interact with each other without the strictness imposed during class time. Children have to create their own rules and customs to get along. As a result, they learn valuable social skills, such as patience, communication, and sharing, and they learn to use these skills without an adult telling them to do so. Although students do occasionally get hurt during recess, most injuries are minor.

Finally, another benefit to recess merely is that it provides children with a chance to play. Children are children, and they like to play; many of the best childhood memories involve recess. Even without the health and developmental benefits, the recess could still be considered worthwhile.

Other Solutions

Although some schools still consider recess cuts necessary, more and more school officials are deciding that recess cuts are not a viable solution. However, improvements in education still need to be made. If extra class time is deemed necessary, but that time cannot come from recess cuts, it will have to come from somewhere else. Some schools have cut physical education, art, and music programs. In some cases, schools reduce even history and science in favour of English and math, which are the two most frequently tested subjects on standardised tests. However, cutting these classes usually draws at least as much protest as cutting recess. If schools can’t reduce any lessons, schools could increase the length of school day, but this is likely to draw protest as well.

Instead of focusing on the quantity of class time, schools could concentrate on the quality of class time. It would require improved training for teachers and improved curriculums. Some states have already upped their requirements for teaching certificates to provide more effective education for students. For example, as of 2003, teaching preparation programs in Washington must adequately cover pedagogy (teaching methods); Washington is considering adding a pedagogy assessment to the current essential skills assessment and subject assessments that teachers must pass to be certified.

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