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SPECIAL REPORT: The Importance of School Recess


SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KION) Everyday after lunch, it's recess time at DeLaveaga Elementary in Santa Cruz. "I like it because it's sometimes stressful to sit inside and work all day," said 5th grade student, Macy Clendenning.

Clendenning's friend, Evie Watkins, chose to agree. "I like hanging out with friends and getting a break. It can be really stressful in class," said Watkins.

For nearly seven hours a day, five days a week, kids are hard at work in the classroom. They expand their knowledge through structured lesson plans, but some argue the greatest lesson kids learn at school doesn't have a plan at all. It happens at recess, where kids are free to explore their imagination.

"We need a break. Everybody needs a break in the middle of their day. You need a break. I need a break," said University of California Santa Cruz Professor and published author, Rebecca London.

According to London, recess isn't just a break. In fact, she said time spent on the playground is vital for childhood development. "It's an opportunity to build important skills: social skills and emotional 
skills. This is a really important time for them, but if it's not working right, or if it's being withheld for punishment, or if it's not scheduled, then it's a lost opportunity," said London.

London has researched recess for the past ten years in 42 schools across the United States.

London said schools began cutting back on recess in the 1990s when standardized testing was introduced. Teachers dedicated more time to "testing subjects" like English and Math, and schools cut recess altogether.

"The schools that were having a hard time making the grade in standardized testing were schools that were serving children in urban areas, low income areas and schools that had high concentration of students of color. Those were the schools where students lost recess at the highest rates or lost the 
most minutes of recess. Those disparities still exist today," said London.

Londons' new book, Rethinking Recess: Creating Safe and Inclusive Playtime for all Children in Schoolaims to get schools back on the right track.

The book outlines eight steps schools can follow to help them build a healthy recess:

  • assess the landscape
  • assess the recess policy structures at school
  • explore the play culture at school
  • engage in low-cost updates
  • provide necessary loose equipment
  • centralize and systemize the equipment checkout 
  • map the play yard with different activity zones or game locations
  • roll out the format to adults and students

Bob Greenlee, principal at DeLaveaga Elementary, said he has worked hard to build a positive recess at his school. "I want their time out here to be as productive as it is in the classroom. It takes work to do that," said Greenlee.

DeLaveaga Elementary gives all students two 20 minute recess periods each day. The school has also hired a "recess coach." Their job is to interact with kids on the playground and make sure everyone is included.

"Recess is a part of their day, their instructional day. Research shows that kids need to have that unstructured, even though it is structured, time. It's a chance to play with their peers, to get exercise and to solve problems," said Greenlee. 

London said only 12 states have mandatory minutes of recess. California is not one of them. For now, it is up to the schools to set the standards. 

"I just think there's a lot we can do in California to think at a policy level, not leave it up to the individual schools. We need to think about what we can, and should be doing, to support recess. There are a number of ways we could do that in the states," said London.

Central Coast / Education / Monterey County / San Benito County / Special Reports / Top Stories

Megan Meier

Megan Meier is a multi-media journalist at KION News Channel 5/46.


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