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Lawmakers Push Playtime as Schools Try to Figure Out How

August 29, 2008 06:00 AM
by Christopher Coats
Legislators across the country are pushing for mandatory recess and free time as individual schools are increasingly being kept inside for a variety of reasons.

Proposed Legislation Takes Aim at Obesity

In an effort to combat obesity and increase students’ productivity, lawmakers in states such as Washington and Illinois have presented legislation that would require schools to provide a set amount of free time for physical activity every day.

Citing studies that show breaks from the classroom to increase students’ ability to concentrate and perform, these laws are part of a larger push against a steady erosion of physical education over the past few years.

Responding to efforts to make recess mandatory in Virginia and Texas, the National Museum of Play released a study finding that a period of physical activity each day helped long-term memory and attention among school age children

However, some schools are finding the requirements difficult to achieve thanks in part to an increased pressure to perform on state and national standardized tests and in some cases, an unsafe environment for children.
A Chicago Sun Times survey recently found that a number of urban schools have done away with any breaks that would possibly place a student out in the open, due to violence in the surrounding neighborhoods

Despite a recess bill passing the Illinois House of Representatives last year, the paper found many schools in impoverished areas unable to offer even a short break after lunch.

Although the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play suggests recess time up to the 8th grade, many Chicago schools were found to be unable to offer any free time at all.

Reflecting the newspaper’s findings, the Center for Public Education recently found that while recess is in little danger of extinction in the United States, lower income schools tend to have far less time dedicated to physical fitness.

Meanwhile, a number of schools in Washington state have begun cutting back on physical education and recess to allow more time to prepare students for the state’s mandatory standardized test.

The trend of eradicating recess in favor of more test preparation time can be traced back to a report in 1983 titled “Nation at Risk,” reported Education World in 2005.

The report, outlining the United States education deficiencies compared with several other countries, spurred a move toward standardized testing and the eventual cancellation of extra-curricular activity, such as recess and the arts.

However, some feel that the added stress of such tests makes the free time of recess all the more important to keep in place.

Although critics have cited the inclusion of PE classes or sports to take the place of recess, it is that unstructured nature of free time that is so important to retain, argues Vickey Schippers of Education Week.

“Today, our kids’ lives are organized to the hilt. For that reason, what is most important about recess is that it is the only unstructured time in a long day for most children, who find themselves in classrooms where the No Child Left Behind Act requires a rigorous schedule of standardized-test preparation,” Schippers wrote in a February commentary on the subject.

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