Recess, Extracurricular Activities, and Active Classrooms: Means for Increasing Elementary School Students' Physical Activity; Physical Education Alone Is Not Enough!
Kahan, David, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance
The link between physical activity and childhood health cannot be overstated. Nationally, the prevalence of at-risk-of overweight and overweight six- to 11-year-old children has risen to 37.2 percent, nearly an eight-point rise in six years (Ogden et al., 2006). While parents and communities are urged to take more responsibility in promoting youth physical activity, schools have been identified as playing a key role in the development of physical fitness and the provision of physical activity opportunities for children (Story, Kaphingst, & French, 2006).
Physical education is traditionally thought of as the primary means of providing physical activity in the school environment. However, only 17 to 22 percent of elementary schools offer daily physical education with a cumulative duration of about 85 to 98 minutes per week (Parsad & Lewis, 2006). This is far short of the recommendation that children accumulate at least 60 minutes of physical activity on all or most days of the week (National Association for Sport and Physical Education [NASPE], 2004). Based on pedometer counts of weekday physical activity, lunch recess and other recess periods combined provide 23 to 25 percent of children's daily step count, whereas physical education provides only 8 to 11 percent (Tudor-Locke, Lee, Morgan, Beighle, & Pangrazi, 2006). Since physical education alone provides an insufficient amount of weekday physical activity, attention is increasingly being given to multifaceted, noncurricular approaches for increasing physical activity (Jago & Baranowski, 2004).
The purpose of this article is to make general recommendations--as supported by the literature and large-scale research studies--for increasing physical activity opportunities for elementary school students through recess, extracurricular activities, and active classrooms. The order of topics is based on the author's assumptions regarding progressive feasibility; individual readers may order the topics differently based on their unique school conditions.
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary (Harper, 2001), the meaning of "recess" as a period to rest from usual work dates back to 1620. Formal periods of recess in American schools date back to at least the 1800s, when children would play various ball games, pitching games, hopscotch, hoop rolling, and tag games. Many theories have been proposed to explain the importance of recess, some of which are outlined in table 1. If these or other theories are valid, then recess has great potential to directly or indirectly improve student welfare on many levels. Unfortunately, increased academic accountability measures are partially to blame for the declining frequency and duration of recess periods in schools in the United States. Additionally, the misnomer of lunch recess may be used to mask the elimination of mid-morning and afternoon recess periods, which are qualitatively and quantitatively different than the time spent in physical activity after eating. Recent position statements encourage daily recess periods totaling at least 20 minutes (NASPE, 2006) or 30 minutes (Pate et al., 2006). However, only 71.4 percent of elementary schools provide regularly scheduled recess for students in all grades (Burgeson, Wechsler, Brener, Young, & Spain, 2001).
Research on Physical Activity and Recess. Physical educators and classroom teachers need to be prepared with objective evidence to lobby for the inclusion, retention, or expansion of recess; therefore, findings from intermediate or larger-size (N > 100) studies on physical activity and recess will be briefly reviewed.
Many studies have been conducted overseas owing to the standardization of daily recess, which does not exist in the United States. For example, in the United Kingdom, children have recess three times a day, for up to 600 sessions each academic year (Ridgers & Stratton, 2005). …