Angry Parents Picket Over Recess for Kids


Photo: Lake County Safe Schools Initiative/Facebook

A group of Florida parents are taking playtime seriously.

Last week, a number of them rallied with their kids holding signs — notably including a “Frozen”-themed, “Recess, don’t ‘Let it go!’” — and picketing in front of local elementary schools, demanding recess for their children.

Leesburg, Florida dad Scott Larson tells Yahoo Parenting his fourth-grade son, “has never had recess before” and gripes that school leadership believes one thing only: “More classroom time equals better academic performance.”

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In the Sunshine State, public school recess (defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “regularly scheduled periods within the elementary school day for unstructured physical activity and play”) is not required by the state Department of Education. School boards have the power to set district-wide policy though in much of the state, principals make the recess rules.

But an increasing number of parents are upset that their kids aren’t getting enough time for free play in addition to their 30 minutes of physical education daily each week. Some have also launched letter-writing campaigns and online petitions urging officials to address their concerns. 

“I would like more direction from the school board to give principals the leeway to have more recess,” Tara Laine Phillips-Hoffman, a Claremont, Florida mom, of twin 10-year-old boys, tells Yahoo Parenting. “There’s so much required by the state and county as far as academics that unfortunately, even if they do believe in recess, the individual school leaders don’t feel the liberty to pursue it.” Hoffman’s fifth-grade boys get recess only once or twice a week for about 15 minutes.

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Leesburg Elementary Principal Patrick Galatowitsch explained to the Orlando Sentinel that the Lake County School Board advisory committee voted not to recommend a district-wide minimum time for recess because “each school has different circumstances in regard to the size of the school property, play space and the number of students, so there was a general consensus that all those individual circumstances made it difficult to just have a blanket policy on the topic of recess.”

That’s cold comfort to parents like Larson. “I put a petition out there in mid-July,” notes the dad. “And it just caught on fire! By August we had 600 signatures. If you read the research about the benefits of recess, I don’t know how you can say no to it.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is on his side. “Recess represents an essential, planned respite from rigorous cognitive tasks,” reads its January 2013 policy statement in the journal Pediatrics. “It affords a time to rest, play, imagine, think, move and socialize.”

Perhaps most significantly, the break has been proven to help kids learn. “Several studies demonstrated that recess, whether performed indoors or outdoors, made children more attentive and more productive in the classroom,” the statement reveals. “Through play at recess, children learn valuable communication skills, including negotiation, cooperation, sharing and problem solving as well as coping skills, such as perseverance and self-control.”

And the benefits show. A 2009 study found that when teachers were asked to rate children’s behavior, kids who received at least 15 minutes of daily recess scored better than those who didn’t get recess.

“Recess is unique from, and a complement to, physical education — not a substitute for it,” rules the AAP. In short, the organization declares, “Recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development.”