Recess serves as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom. But equally important is the fact that safe and well-supervised recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits that may not be fully appreciated when a decision is made to diminish it. Recess is unique from, and a complement to, physical education — not a substitute for it. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.
But, of course, in the standardized-test-based era of school “accountability,” recess has been drastically reduced — and in some cases eliminated — for children for precisely those reasons. Even kids in kindergarten are being asked to focus for long periods of time on math and reading — even if they are not developmentally able. The result, according to Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist, is that too many kids can’t sit still; they fidget, lose focus and act out. Some wind up being diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder even when they do not have it, she wrote here.
Taking these lessons to heart, some schools have adopted the program, in which young kids are sent out for recess four times a day for a total of one hour. They also work up to four times a week — for up to 15 minutes at a time — on activities focusing on positive character and ethics development. The curriculum comes from a 30-year-old K-12 curriculum called Positive Action, which implements a schoolwide approach from all content areas and helps students to better understand themselves and be honest with themselves and others.
The LiiNK Project was developed and is directed at Texas Christian University by Debbie Rhea, a professor and associate dean of research in the Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences. LiiNK stands for “Let’s inspire innovation ’n kids.”
“I started the program because I was tired of seeing students burn out by third grade, teachers burn out in five years, and schools that focused primarily on testing from the time children entered in pre-K or K all the way through high school,” she said in an email. “I saw in 2011 that Finland was doing things differently, so I went over there and lived for six weeks to determine what it was that they were doing that we might be able to implement.
“The two pieces (recess and character development) that I’m doing in the 14 public schools now are two of the things I identified in Finland. The funny part is we used to do recess and character development in the ’60s and ’70s, but we went a different direction over the years and Finland learned from us and stayed the course.”
Eagle Mountain Elementary School in Fort Worth began doing it last year when Bryan McLain was principal for kindergartners and first-graders, and this year it is also in second grade. He said the idea made a lot of sense to him because “kids aren’t hard-wired to sit still all day.” Now, he said, “we believe in essence we are giving children back their childhood.”
One result of allowing kids more time for recess, he said, has been increased instructional time “because the kids come back in and settle down and get to work because they know they will receive another recess before long.” He also said teachers referred kids to the office for disciplinary action less often as a result of the program and found that “kids are solving their own problems much more independently.”
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