The empty playground scene above has become all too common in today’s schools. Recess time is at an all time low in American schools, with many schools cutting back recess to mere minutes a day, or worse, cutting recess altogether in the name of “extra learning time.” In an attempt to fix this situation, a New Rhode Island law requires recess in all elementary schools, but the fine print shows that this attempt may be futile. The new law, signed in by Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) mandates at least 20 consecutive minutes of free play for every kid, every day in elementary schools. 20 minutes!? Fortunately, the law says that schools may count this whopping 20 minutes as “instructional time” so they don’t have to extend the school day to meet the requirement, which is good because many teachers in Rhode Island are worried this whole 20 minutes will affect their ability to manage the curriculum. Wow. It’s utterly depressing that not only are laws required in order to make sure kids aren’t stuck sitting on their rears all day but that these laws so clearly ignore research that shows kids can’t function well on just 20 minutes of free time per day.
Finland, well known for having one of the best educational systems in the world, allows kids to take one 15-minute break after every 45 minutes of instruction. Other research shows that ample play time is essential to the social, emotional, cognitive, and physical well-being of children, and that play is a natural tool for children to develop resiliency as they learn to cooperate, overcome challenges, and negotiate with others. Still more research shows that kids denied recess, breaks, or free play don’t learn as well as peers who do receive down time.
But research is moot, because anyone with a child knows that you CANNOT make a child sit still for 8+ hours a day without ending up with a seriously messed up, upset, and frustrated kid. It’s 100% ridiculous to make anyone sit still and concentrate for that long without a break, even adults, let alone a young child. As the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play (IPA/USA) points out — congressional sessions call for recesses, as do judges in courtrooms, as do Fortune 500 companies and labor unions, yet, our kids are missing out on these same vital breaks.
If you think 20 minutes of recess is a joke, you need to get involved. If possible choose a school that advocates free play, recess and physical activity as part of the average day. If you can’t choose your school, join your school board, talk to teachers and school administrators about the importance of free play time for kids. If you need help with facts and talking points, the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play (IPA/USA) has a wealth of resources available at their website.