In defense of recess

In defense of recess

Legislature should mandate 20 minutes of play each day

WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG, could you spend six or seven hours in a classroom without going outside? Could you sit still for hours at a time, without a chance to run around and get your energy out? Today, that scenario is far too common for kids in our elementary schools.

If you’re not a teacher, a pediatrician, or one of the thousands of Massachusetts parents with elementary school-aged children, you might be surprised to learn that many of our students get less than 20 minutes of recess on a typical school day. Some schools have even cut recess altogether.

During my elementary school days, recess was a given. I even took it for granted — one, two, sometimes even three unstructured breaks from the classroom to play, exercise, and bond with classmates. Since the late 1980s, however, recess has begun to be treated as expendable time. School districts are under mounting pressure to ensure students are ready to take standardized tests. This has lead many districts to promote policies that cut recess in favor of test preparation. Recess has also come to be used as a carrot on a stick, a reward for completed work rather than time that is, in fact, critical for a child’s academic success.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has found that after recess, students are more attentive and better able to perform cognitive tasks. When students have recess, they develop more neural connections and improved memory. Giving students recess also helps them stay on-task and reduces disruptive behavior in the classroom.

Recess also helps kids become better people — free play offers them the opportunity to learn important social skills such as determining fairness and interacting across perceived lines of difference like race and gender. And, obviously, recess ensures that students spend more time engaged in physical activity, which leads to healthier kids. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that students receive at least 20 minutes of unstructured recess time per day.

Ensuring that every elementary school kid gets recess is simply common sense, and we must work to preserve that access. This session I have sponsored legislation, bill H.235, which would require that all students in grades K-5 receive at least 20 minutes of unstructured recess per school day.

This legislation is strongly supported by the Massachusetts Teachers Association and by the many teachers concerned about their schools’ recess policies. My office continues to hear from parents across the state who worry about a culture that “chips away at recess under the radar” and from physicians and other professionals underscoring the necessity of this legislation. According to a recent statewide poll conducted by the Massachusetts Teachers Association, 93 percent of public school parents support including 20 minutes of recess as part of the school day.

Unfortunately, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is proving resistant to state regulatory interference. They are sending a message that school districts should be given the autonomy to create rules independent of a critical look at their impacts. The truth, though, is that the Legislature wouldn’t be considering a recess mandate if there weren’t a clear need to begin with.

Facts and figures aside, it’s our children who are at the center of this conversation. No child should be forced to sit in a classroom all day, and every child deserves the recess time they need to grow into their most healthy and successful selves.

Meet the Author

Marjorie Decker

State representative, Massachusetts House
We owe it to their futures to make sure they get that time.

Marjorie Decker is a state representative from Cambridge.