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.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    What’s also true is if you’re not a teacher, a pediatrician, or one of the thousands of Massachusetts parents with elementary school-aged children then you might be surprised to learn the State of Massachusetts is not meeting its financial obligations to local public school districts. The following areas are just eight examples of those state funding shortfalls in public education:
    #1 The Foundation Budget…the mechanism distributing state aid to local public schools…is underfunded with reports going back to 2010 confirming that fact.
    #2 The Massachusetts School Building Authority is underfunded leaving at least a couple of dozen public school construction projects to re-apply for funding the next year.
    #3 Charter schools drain funding from public schools exceeding $500,000,000 a year.
    #4 The charter school reimbursement formula is broken and underfunded.
    #5 2,440 students from Puerto Rico enrolled in local public schools over the past three and a half months and all Governor Charlie Baker did was to award a grand total of $60,000 to twelve schools districts working out to $8.47 for each of the 590 students enrolled in Springfield and that’s all the Governor plans on giving those school districts this year.
    #6 The state is not fully funding the special education Circuit Breaker program.
    #7 The state is not meeting its obligation to pick up the costs for transporting homeless students.
    #8 The state is not fully funding regional transportation costs.
    Regarding regional public school busing, a 1949 law requires the state to pay transportation costs and according to a recent MassLive article, “Massachusetts’ regional school districts face $17 million state funding shortfall,” the “last time regional transportation costs were fully funded was more than 15 years ago.” So taking facts and figures into consideration, our children deserve to attend fully funded and well resourced public schools and no child should be forced to sit in an underfunded classroom…even if they get recess.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    I get where State Representative Marjorie Decker is coming from…Cambridge…where per pupil expenditures are the fifth highest in the Commonwealth at $26,583.71. So students in Cambridge are attending well funded public schools but that’s not the end of the Cambridge story…no, that’s just the beginning. A recent article, “How Cambridge built its $200M municipal ‘savings account’” has some more details worth knowing: “With almost $300 million in free cash and reserves, an AAA bond rating for 18 consecutive years and some of the lowest property taxes in the state, Cambridge is in better shape than almost any other Massachusetts city…With state aid at an all-time low, many communities have to regionalize services or rely on private funds for big projects, but not Cambridge…The AAA bond rating…allows Cambridge to secure better interest rates. This means less money is taken out of taxpayers’ pockets to finance capital projects…” In other words, everything’s coming up roses in Cambridge. That’s why recess is this state rep’s top priority and not fully funded public schools for the rest of the state’s 350 cities and towns.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    Do you remember three months ago…on November 8, 2017…Governor Charlie Baker announced he would seek additional school funding from the legislature to help cities pay for the education of the…by then 880 students (still expected to grow by hundreds more)… from Puerto Rico enrolling in their schools? Well you should. It was reported by WBUR, Boston Globe, SouthCoast Today, and MassLive just to name a few news outlets. Anyhow, MassLive went one step further after its reporting and on November 10, 2017 ran an editorial “Funding for new students was the only just call” stating: “As cities and towns absorb a new population of students – some with special needs, including language learning – the state cannot sit by idly and avoid a participatory role in this transition. The governor’s request for more school funding was the right call because it was the only call. This transition will not be easy, but active government response at all levels is the only way to ease some of the pain.” Well today…January 29, 2018…Governor Baker did it! He did it! He filed a bill to provide funding for “hurricane evacuee education.” According to his office’s press release: “…This bill fulfills the commitment made by the Baker-Polito Administration to seek additional funding for school districts that have enrolled significant numbers of evacuee students. This bill will include $15 million in Fiscal Year 2018 supplemental local aid…As of last week, approximately 2,400 students from Puerto Rico had enrolled in the Commonwealth’s schools.” So, almost four months after students started enrolling in local public schools here in Massachusetts immediately after the hurricane Governor Baker finally requested some.