Twenty minutes of recess should be a minimum, not a maximum

The Master Schedule proposed for Fairfax County elementary schools last week includes a provision to “provide twenty minutes of recess each day within the regular elementary schedule.”

It is good to see that Fairfax is preparing to provide more than the current 10 minutes per day allotted to recess. However, my impression is that the new 20-minute schedule for recess is both a minimum and a maximum amount of time. Is this correct, that 20 minutes is the maximum amount of time for recess? I hope this is clarified before the next work session on the proposed schedule.

I think it would be better to devise a schedule that allows up to 30 minutes per day for recess. So I hope the new recess policy specifies a recess period of between 20-30 minutes per day.

When First Lady Michelle Obama visited Hollin Meadows Elementary School four years ago, she supported the school’s policy of allowing 30 minutes for recess.  At the time, Hollin Meadows was one of 16 schools in Fairfax County that allowed students to stay in school for a full day on Mondays.  Therefore, the students had enough total time in school to be allowed more than 10 minutes of recess per day.

Here are the remarks  made by Ms. Consolla, a staff member at Hollin Meadows, during the First Lady’s visit  November 18, 2009:

….And our latest efforts have focused on recess.  And in a time when many schools are decreasing the amount of recess or even eliminating recess, we’ve actually extended it.  We went from 20 minutes to 30 minutes.  And I would love to say that the driving force was to lower childhood obesity or to increase physical activity — but it wasn’t; I’d be lying to you if I said that.  It was, again, the social/emotional needs of the children.

Because we know that when kids are engaged in productive free play they develop self-responsibility, they practice skills such as negotiating, they communicate with each other.  And this is critical to their academic success and to their healthy well being.  So we kind of back-doored with the physical fitness piece of this.

But it wasn’t just about adding 10 minutes to the recess time.  We looked at how the quality of the recess — and so what we did was we looked at activities that were inclusive and that would get those kids active for the 30 minutes.  So there’s no sitting on the sidelines and there’s no waiting your turn. It’s go, go, go.  The more running, the better.

Teachers cannot keep their children out of recess because they’d miss their homework or because they were misbehaving in class.  Recess is as important as reading and math and science and social studies.

Here is a question Mrs. Obama had for the principal of Hollin Meadows, Jon Gates:

MRS. OBAMA:  Well, a question, Jon, because Hollin Meadows, again, has its share of struggles.  You’ve got a pretty diverse population base.  You’re dealing with high-needs kids.  Yet you’ve managed to find the time with the current resources to add recess — and that’s something that you hear; or at least I’ve heard as a mother, that it’s not done because there’s no time in the curriculum, because of testing and other requirements — but you’ve managed to do it in addition to adding nutrition education into the curriculum.

So I guess one question is how have you managed to do what many others have said is impossible to do under the current structure?

PRINCIPAL GATES:  Well, I think that in many ways some of what we’ve done is counterintuitive.  You think, well, if we need more time for the academics then we should cut out something like recess.  But what we know is that when a child has had a chance to be physically active, when they’ve had a chance to have free choice, that those things then — it pays off when they come back into the classroom and they’re ready to attend, they’re ready to learn.

Further support for 20 minutes of recess as a minimum rather than a maximum was recently expressed by the School Health Advisory Committee (SHAC).  Its Final Report 2013-14  was presented to the Fairfax County School Board May 29. SHAC recommends:

A minimum of 20 minutes of supervised recess per day will be provided to all elementary school students, during which physical activity is encouraged. Recess will be scheduled before lunch whenever possible. In larger schools where recess before lunch cannot currently be provided to all students on the same day, classes will rotate recess times equally, before and after lunch throughout the year.

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