Even though a number of recent studies (including research published in 2009 in Pediatrics) has shown that many children learn better when some free time is part of their school day, recess has become an endangered species in schools across the US. Seeking to pack in more instructional time and prepare students for all-important standardized tests, schools have minimized the minutes allotted to recess or even eliminated it.
As an elementary school student in the suburbs outside of Oakland, Califronia in the 1970′s, I remember having two 20-minute recess periods, one in the morning and another in the afternoon, as well as a half-hour at lunch. But so much time allotted to recess is now unheard-of. At some highly-rated public elementary schools in New York City, students are foregoing recess, in order to have time for something else that’s too often been sacrificed in the name of more instructional time, the arts. Both parents and educators are viewing recess as better, and even best, spent on enrichment classes in areas that have not fared well due to budget cuts.
The PTA at P.S. 188 raised over $12,000 to to support voluntary lunchtime clubs in the arts, music and computers. The principal, Janet Caraisco, herself runs “several book clubs and a music theater club.” A class at P.S. 188 can have 32 students, so the lunchtime clubs give students a chance to learn in a setting with fewer students, and with those with similar interests. To make sure that students’ participation is voluntary, the paperwork to join the lunch clubs is not sent home.
Students at some schools have the chance to take dance or design video games.
… at P.S. 290, lunch clubs allow students to learn improvisational performance, make comic books, learn sign language and knit.
And at P.S. 372 in Brooklyn, an arts-focused school where special education students learn alongside other students, fourth- and fifth-grade lunch club members can choose from an array including mosaic designing, mural making and embroidery. The school also offers chorus and dance.
Parents say lunchtime clubs give children a chance to learn in a setting more intimate than the typical classroom, and lets them spend time with like-minded students. “They’re coming from these classrooms of 30 kids,” said Nick Gottlieb, PTA co-president at P.S. 3 in Greenwich Village, where educators run a popular lunchtime program that pairs students with adult volunteers, who read and discuss books with them. “It’s quiet, individualized time,” Mr. Gottlieb said.
One student interviewed noted that she’d rather have more time to use the computer, especially on cold winter days.
The loss of arts and music education due to budget cuts has certainly been unfortunate. To be quite honest, if I was an elementary school student at one of those schools, I would far rather join a lunchtime club in any of the subjects offered; recess and the playground are not easy for every child to navigate. On the other hand, getting outside and moving and running around — “down time” — can definitely aid learning, as has become very apparent to me in raising my teenage son Charlie, who’s autistic and thrives on physical activity to refocus and calm down. I teach college students in 1 hour, 15 minutes, class periods and often feel that having them get out of their seats and just move around a bit would help their learning. Whoever said that all work and no play made Jack (and Jill) a dull boy (and girl), was on to something.
Should recess time be used for instruction in extracurriculars?
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Photo by Lee Fenner