Why Kids Need Recess and Exercise
Researchers, educators, and parents are realizing that not only is exercise good for kids -- it is crucial. Find out why. Plus: Take this fitness quiz to find out how healthy your family really is
It's been quite a while since I've experienced recess, but I have incredible memories of my time on the playground: I loved playing jacks and Miss Mary Mack with my best friend, Stacey; I almost got my butt kicked in a schoolyard brawl with the nerdy girl, Kim; and the slide gave me the perfect cover for staring at and daydreaming about Sean, who I thought was the cutest boy, like, ever. Most of all, I couldn't wait to feel the sun kiss my face as I soared higher and higher on the swing--a rare delight for this latchkey kid who couldn't go outside until my mom came home from work. Recess was everything to me.
So, if research has proven that recess is good for kids, why are more and more schools eliminating it? Studies suggest that as many as 40 percent of schools nationwide have cut recess--citing lack of time, supervision, and resources. Students most likely to get little or no time outside, says Dr. Barros, are those in low-income, urban neighborhoods where play areas are scarce--and teachers are busy trying to raise their students' test scores to meet strict federal No Child Left Behind standards. Meanwhile, there are some parents who don't object to seeing recess go away. They often have less than fond memories of the playground, and are keen on sparing their children the bullying they endured.
Moms Fight Back
But there is also a large group of moms who couldn't disagree more. When Jennifer van Rosmalen, of Peoria, AZ, heard that her 9-year-old son--and the entire fourth grade--had lost recess privileges for forgetting to bring pencils to music class, she thought it "cruel and unusual punishment." And she was flabbergasted when her 11-year-old told her that the sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students in his middle school had gone without recess for six months because of an unspecified incident on the playground. "To me, it's like taking away air or depriving someone of sleep," she says. "These things are essential for health and well-being, and so is recess." Van Rosmalen says she appealed to the principals of both her children's schools--even offering to work as a recess monitor at the middle school--but with no luck. (The first principal, now at another school, doesn't recall the incident Van Rosmalen described; the second denies the mom's account.)
For Marie Walton, a Howell Township, NJ, mom of two, the outcome was different. She dug in, fought her children's school district to make recess a priority--and won. Walton started her mission after finding out, during a meeting about raising money to install new playground equipment, that the kids in her second-grade son's elementary school rarely, if ever, went outside for free play. "I was just shocked," says Walton. "I grew up in this town, and I immediately thought of my fifth-grade teacher--who took us outside, even if it was drizzling or snowing. I was floored that these kids were expected, at such a young age, to sit all day."