The following blog was originally published on SHAPE America.
Across the country, advocates are calling for schools and school districts to make recess a priority as a way to boost academic performance, improve behavior, enhance emotional well-being, and contribute to physical literacy among students.
Read how two moms have taken on this fight in their school district and learn what steps you can take to get involved.
Prince William County School District, Virginia
I first noticed a problem when my son started coming home from kindergarten with holes bitten into his collars and shirts. He had never exhibited any nervous behaviors before, but I did not put the pieces together until much later.
When he started first grade, I listened to the teacher say how wonderful it was to have recess at 3:00 in the afternoon. I was horrified, but did nothing because I just assumed this was how schools operate. I thought, what hope do I have to change them?
However, then I discovered that very successful school districts in our area had much better policies on PE and recess, and from that moment forward I have not paused in the pursuit of a more balanced schedule for our elementary school children that takes into account their basic needs as well as their academic needs.
Barbara Larrimore speaking at school board meeting.
I am currently working on a plan for an agenda item to be voted on by the school board that would allow 30 minutes of recess a day for all grades at the elementary school level.
Here are my tips for other parents who want to advocate for more recess:
- Talk to other parents. You will be surprised how many people share the same thoughts! Exchange stories and experiences, and form groups to speak at school board meetings.
- Speak to your school board representatives and your local delegates. They are elected to listen to the wants and needs of their constituents. Find out if there are barriers to overcome or more avenues to explore at the local and state level.
- Create a way for people to “plug in,” whether it’s a hashtag or Facebook page with a memorable name like “More Recess in PWC” so people can find out more information and sign petitions.
Read more about Barbara Larrimore’s advocacy efforts in her school district.
Madison School District, Arizona
I organized Madison Parents for Recess (now Arizonans for Recess) last school year when our K-4 school went from two recesses a day to one — and made the kids sit quietly in the library during that one recess on high-heat days in August and September.
When I asked why the students couldn’t go to the gym for recess, school administrators said it was “because the kids would feel free to run around in the gym.” The shock of that answer, indicating a presumption against movement/physical activity, compelled my action, as did a few calls confirming that most large/urban schools in Arizona had gone to one short daily recess, combined with a hurried lunch.
Word of the Facebook group spread quickly and I learned many parents had been wanting to gather around the recess issue. As we began advocating with school and district officials, and ultimately our school board, teachers and administrators (both active and retired) began joining the group, and we started adding stakeholders from the health, education and business sectors.
Christine Davis (left) advocating at a school board
meeting with her former fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Adams.
Ultimately, we were unsuccessful at the local level last year. Despite the multidisciplinary consensus concerning the benefits of recess, test anxiety still trumps best practices, and it is very hard to restore something once it has been lost. So now we are at the legislature, asserting that local control has been local neglect when it comes to kids and recess. We are also pressing our districts to create robust wellness policies and functioning site-level school wellness committees. It is a multi-layered effort.
My advice to other advocates would be:
- Use social media to educate and gather parents, educators and health professionals.
- Use the media and all available policy, administrative and legislative processes to improve school recess.
- Share the work and be respectful, but bold. Don’t stop. Our kids truly need us here.
- Feel free to join Arizonans for Recess to share resources.
Read more about how Christine Davis started advocating for recess in her school district.
Michelle Carter is the Senior Program Manager at SHAPE America.