When children are playing during recess time they are releasing stress, they are getting a break from sitting still, they are developing their social skills, they are using their imagination, and they are allowing their brains time to absorb the information they were taught in their classroom. We know that recess is good for children and we know that children love recess. Yet, currently in the state of Texas we have no law requiring recess as part of a student’s instructional day. There is a requirement that students have 135 minutes weekly or 30 minutes a day of structured Physical Education or another TEKS based physical activity. This requirement does not mention an unstructured, daily recess for students. We need a recess bill to ensure adequate recess for all Texas children.
Local control is not working
Recess bills have been presented in Texas before and they have failed. The consistent argument against mandating recess is that school districts prefer recess policy to be decided at the local level. The problem with this argument is that local control has led to local neglect. There are no safeguards in place to ensure that children have access to adequate recess. We have no safeguards to ensure school districts are considering research when it comes to creating their recess policies.
Many school districts talk about best practice and using research-based strategies in their classrooms, yet they tend to ignore research when it comes to recess policy. According to Texas Education Agency’s own regulations they state that each Independent School District (ISD) in Texas shall have a local School Health Advisory Council that, “shall consider and make policyrecommendations to the district concerning the importance of daily recess for elementary school students. The council must consider research regarding unstructured and undirected play, academic and social development, and the health benefits of daily recess in making the recommendations. The council shall ensure that local community values are reflected in any policyrecommendation made to the district under this subsection.”
In the state of Texas, many ISDs aren’t in compliance with the SHAC regulation. Either ISDs are not considering research on recess and/or these councils do not consist of a “majority of parents” as required by TEA. Because of this a legislative mandate is required to overcome local neglect.
The research says it all
The research on recess is indisputable. Children need recess just like they need to eat and breathe. Children need to run, play, imagine, explore. Recess is when children can be children. A child could attend the most prestigious school with the most qualified teacher, but none of that matters if their basic human needs are not being met.
Recess makes kids smarter. A Harvard study in The Journal of School Health entitled, “Healthier students make better learners”, indicated that “the more physical fitness tests children passed, the better they did on academic tests.” There is ample research to support the fact that increased recess increases academic performance. The argument against increased recess minutes is that it takes away from academic instruction and actually the opposite is true. Increasing recess increases students’ academic performance.
Recess builds social skills. Recess is the one time of day that children can socialize with their peers. In our current digital age when people are addicted to screens, we need to be providing time for young children to socialize, face-to-face with their peers. How do we expect children to attain social skills if we never give them time to practice them? Our country has a serious mental health crisis on our hands. We can start fixing that on our playgrounds by allowing children to develop healthy social-emotional skills that will benefit them for a lifetime.
Equity matters in public education
Equity in public education is discussed in length as it relates to school finance and teacher qualifications. Yet, when you do some searching you’ll find that there is another disparity between wealthy and low-income public schools: recess. According to the Center for Public Education, the more low-income a school the less recess they are likely to have. This statistic is both sad and alarming and unfortunately reflected in recess times in many communities in Texas. Below you will find a table reflecting recess times in San Antonio area local schools:
|School||% Low-Income||Daily Recess Minutes|
You can see that this information shows that the wealthier the school, the more recess minutes they receive. When children from low-income backgrounds are denied adequate recess we are placing even more of a burden on their already burdened systems. Many of these children face hardships before they walk through the doors of public schools. As mentioned before, recess is a time for children to relieve stress, to reset their systems, to use their imagination, these are all things that all children need, especially children who are already deemed at-risk.
Another factor that affects equity is parent involvement. Parents from low-income backgrounds are less likely to be involved in their children’s schools for several reasons. Many parents from low-income backgrounds have rigid work schedules and cannot leave work to come to a committee meeting. These parents are also more likely to have language barriers or have a negative connation of school because of their own experiences. There is also the issue of immigration statuses that may have parents living in fear of being at their child’s school. Hence, children from low-income families are less likely to have parents on the School Health Advisory Council. This results in local control failing to provide an equitable education to children, especially those from low-income backgrounds.
It is time to take action
Many school districts boast that they use the most current research to inform their teaching practices when it comes to science, math, reading, writing, and social studies. Yet, when it comes to recess our local school districts are choosing to ignore the research on recess. It’s time that parents, teachers, and legislators come together and ensure that all children, whether they live in 78209 or 78201, have access to adequate, daily recess.
You can help fight for recess by contacting your Texas Senator and Texas Representative. Let them know that you want them to support the Texas Recess Bill. Explain how local control is failing our students and ask them to fight for what’s best for our kids.
This post was written by: Dixie Selva, Northside ISD parent and Early Childhood Specialist with support from Summer Belloni, Midland ISD Parent & Recess Advocate
Dixie and Summer are both licensed teachers who have taught in elementary public schools. Dixie and Summer believe in bringing developmentally appropriate practices back to our public schools so that all children can be successful.