Hats off to Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo (D) who has mandated 20 minutes of consecutive free time (also known as recess) for all elementary schoolers. The law also dictates that these 20 minutes be considered “instructional” so the school day won’t be extended to accommodate the recess.
While this seems like a basic part of elementary school, mandatory recess is actually a rare thing. Most states do not have laws in place advocating for recess. Indeed, Florida schools lobbied for mandatory recess earlier this year and were denied by the state senate.
This is alarming, especially considering what the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on School Health has to say about recess:
Recess serves as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom… safe and well-supervised recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits that may not be fully appreciated when a decision is made to diminish it. Recess is unique from… physical education — not a substitute for it. Recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.
So how do schools get away with putting the kibosh on recess? Well, you can blame it on the recent uptick in standardized testing. Many school districts feel those 20 minutes could be better spent doing academic work or test prep—regardless of the fact that children find it difficult to focus for long periods of time at an elementary school age.
According to an article on TODAY, spokesperson for Recess for Rhode Island Janice O’Donnell said, “We recognize that adults need regular breaks from work—children need them more. Kids need to move. When they’ve had a break, children are more attentive in class and less likely to be disruptive.”
As a former teacher, a mother and a grandmother, O’Donnell says she is well-acquainted with the benefits of recess: “It’s how they learn to get along with others, control their impulses, and solve problems.”
Teachers in Rhode Island will no longer have to worry about attempting to schedule their own breaks along with lesson planning—something they say will be a huge relief. Other parents have had equally positive responses to the new law, saying that even 15 minutes of sensory play helps their children focus and learn better later in the day.
So… meet you on the playground?