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Education Reporter

Schools Reassess Recess
Playtime no longer elementary
To the chagrin of many parents, students and child development specialists, recess periods are gradually being eliminated from the elementary school day. This trend began several years ago and continues to gain steam, as school administrators worry about improving performance on state assessment tests and avoiding playground injury-related lawsuits. Across the country, schools are filling recess time with classroom curricula and activities and relying on physical education classes to fill the void.

Three years ago, the Atlanta school district eliminated recess at many elementary schools, and schools under construction at the time were being built without playgrounds. (See Education Reporter, June 1998.) Students at some schools in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia are also doing without recess, and more recently, school districts in Chicago, Illinois, Detroit, Michigan, Omaha, Nebraska, and Anne Arundel County, Maryland have followed suit.

The Associated Press (AP) reported on May 15 that complaints about the elimination of recess "are on the rise nationwide" from parents and teachers. "I don't believe you can keep kids on task all day," Georgia State University early child education professor Olga Jarrett told the AP. Professor Jarrett said her own studies show that children who get "vigorous exercise" during the school day perform better academically, whereas those kept indoors become "totally distracted for 15-20 minutes - the length of the average recess period."

Thirty-five-year veteran early childhood teacher and school administrator Sheila Flaxman, writing for Scholastic Inc. (9-00), described eliminating recess as "a dangerous proposition." Flaxman listed 10 benefits of recess, a few of which include therapeutic value in providing opportunities for safe acting-out behaviors, muscular and speech development through physical and social interaction, language-skill development, and problem solving and creative thinking skills development.

The American Association for the Child's Right to Play contends that there is "a misconception" in our society that recess fails to serve any real purpose. "Recess can serve as an outlet for reducing or lowering the child's anxiety," they point out. "The elementary school-age child has very few coping strategies . . . Recess provides a means for the child to manage stress."

The Association also notes that "Students who do not get a break are much more fidgety in the classroom. . . . ," which is precisely the consequence that some parents and experts fear most. With more and more children taking prescription drugs such as Ritalin to keep them manageable in the classroom, the lack of a recess break virtually ensures that still more children will be labeled with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and their parents coerced to put them on medication.

"Physical activity is essential for the healthy growth and development of children," states the American Association for the Child's Right to Play. "Recess affords an avenue for the child's natural urge for vigorous physical play, through which young children learn about their bodies' capabilities, and how to control themselves in their environment."

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