Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Recess Backlash: Parents Say It Pays to Play

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Recess Backlash: Parents Say It Pays to Play

Article excerpt

The American playground is now also a battleground for parents, educators, and policymakers - with many struggling to defend the tradition of recess against the incursion of tight budgets.

As far back as 1999, some 40 percent of sampled school districts nationwide had eliminated or cut back recess. But since then a backlash has begun to preserve a place for childhood energies to be unleashed during the schoolday.

Virginia mandated daily recess, then Michigan, and now Connecticut, Georgia, and Washington, D.C., are considering the move. And across the country, incredulous parents are trying to take back recess one school at a time.

"Administrators are saying they don't have time in the day for recess," says Rebecca Lamphere, now with the National Recess Support Network. But she says learning more is not just a function of studying more. Children "need a break. Fresh minds foster education."

It sounds like advice your grandmother would give you, but as school administrators feel pinched for test prep time and pressured to do more with less, schools are squeezed. As a result, children may get recess only twice a week, during physical education classes, or not at all, depending on the school.

The loss of recess, according to experts in child health and psychology, results in a more sedentary, stressed-out youngster who may have a harder time learning to socialize. Like the loss of PE, art, and music - it's also a blow to the "whole child" approach to education - which says that playing is as important to learning as the multiplication tables are to math.

"Frustrated parents are watching their children come home much less happy and much more fidgety," says Rhonda Clements, an education professor at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., and president of the American Association for the Child's Right to Play.

She says she receives 30 to 50 e-mails a day from distraught parents - a number that has grown steadily since the early 1990s.

How one mom fought back

Laurie Walmsley is one of those moms fighting the recess issue on a local level.

She says she didn't know anything was amiss in the suburban schools north of Dallas until her fourth-grade son, Brett, began having a tough year. He didn't want to go to school, saying he "hated it" - and his grades were proof. She finally asked him what would make him happy again and want to go to school. "Recess," he answered simply. "We don't get recess anymore."

"I could not believe it," she says. "I thought, 'Everybody needs a break.' "

After unsuccessfully discussing the issue with the principal, she went to the Princeton School Board and made a fuss. Board members agreed that children should have recess and wrote a resolution that called for a daily 15-minute break from kindergarten to sixth grade. But it wasn't a mandate, and Brett's teacher routinely overlooked it. …

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