The American Academy of Pediatrics and numerous other professional and pediatric groups have been advocating for more recess and unstructured playtime saying, “Recess is a necessary break in the day for optimizing a child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development.”
Dr. Sarah Lazarus is a pediatrician and started a Facebook group Parents for Play where she encourages parents to come together to discuss and advocate for extending recess for elementary students in DeKalb and Georgia.
Dr. Lazarus was recently featured in the AJC saying,
“The AAP explains that children who get regular recess are healthier, better able to focus, and develop the social and emotional skills necessary to be engaged learners. Research also shows that children learn better following a break for physical activity. During recess, children develop social and problem-solving skills that cannot be taught in the classroom, and these result in increased academic success. When children are given ample opportunities to move and play, their ability to focus improves greatly.
Children from Finland have some of the highest scores on international standardized tests, much higher that the children in the United States. There, they provide 15 minutes of recess for every hour children are in the classroom. Recently, at an elementary school in Texas, based on the Finnish curriculum, recess was increased to 60 minutes a day with four 15-minute breaks for children to go outside and play.”
Stacy Stepney is the Director of Elective and Special Instruction. She tells us about recess at DeKalb Schools.
Question: How much recess/unstructured playtime is allotted to elementary students every day?
Stacy Stepney: Schools must schedule a minimum of 15 minutes of supervised, unstructured break time each day to promote physical, social, and academic development. The unstructured break time involves children’s choice of activities whether indoors or outdoors. It is recommended that the unstructured breaks occur between periods of relatively rigorous academic time. The District does not support withholding these breaks for disciplinary or academic reasons.
Question: Are there state laws or board policy governing recess/unstructured playtime?
Stacy Stepney: According to Board policy IEDA-Unstructured Break Time, the District supports supervised, unstructured break times for students in kindergarten through grade five. Currently, the Board policy stipulates that the school day cannot be extended to provide the supervised, unstructured breaks.
The State Board of Education Rule 160-5-1-.02 mandates the following based upon a 180-day school year: Kindergarten through third grade students shall not have less than a daily average of 4.5 hours (270 minutes) of instruction time. Fourth and fifth grade students shall not have less than a daily average of 5 hours (300 minutes) of instruction time.
Question: Who at the school level or district level can make the decision to increase unstructured playtime?
Stacy Stepney: Dr. Green would direct staff to collaborate with stakeholders (district, school, parents, community partners, and students) to review and revise Board policy IEDA-Unstructured Break Time. If there are recommended changes, the committee will present the information to Dr. Green for consideration before submitting a proposed policy change to the Board of Education for review and approval.
Question: What can parents do at the school level or county level to extend unstructured playtime for elementary students?
Stacy Stepney: [ repeated answer from last question] Dr. Green would direct staff to collaborate with stakeholders (district, school, parents, community partners, and students) to review and revise Board policy IEDA-Unstructured Break Time. If there are recommended changes, the committee will present the information to Dr. Green for consideration before submitting a proposed policy change to the Board of Education for review and approval.
California requires 54,000 minutes of instructional time in a year. Broken down into 180 days of school (what GA requires) – this is 300 minutes a day. The requirements are the same (except for in GA, they only require 270 minutes a day for K-2). This is approximately 4.5-5 hours a day.
Elementary school days run from 7:45am-2:30pm in DeKalb. This is 6.75 hours.
Regarding PE: GA requires 90 minutes every week, or 180 minutes every two weeks. CA requires 200 minutes of PE every two weeks.
GA has no state law to require supervised unstructured movement (AKA recess). DeKalb board policy requires (K-5) 15 minutes minimum daily and it may not be removed for behavioral or academic punishment. (Although I have seen this happen regularly.)
I have not been able to find any numbers, but it is clearly defined as a priority in CA ed code: “33350. The State Department of Education shall do all of the following:
(a) Adopt rules and regulations that it deems necessary and proper to secure the establishment of courses in physical education in the elementary and secondary schools.
(b) Compile or cause to be compiled and printed a manual in physical education for distribution to teachers in the public schools of the state.
(c) Encourage school districts offering instruction in kindergarten and any of grades 1 to 12, inclusive, to the extent that resources are available, to provide quality physical education that develops the knowledge, attitudes, skills, behavior, and motivation needed to be physically active and fit for life; to provide daily recess periods for elementary school pupils, featuring time for unstructured but supervised play; to provide extracurricular physical activity and fitness programs and physical activity and fitness clubs; and to encourage the use of school facilities for physical activity and fitness programs offered by the school, public park and recreation districts, or community-based organizations outside of school hours.”
So, according to Stacy Stepney, “Dr. Green would direct staff to collaborate with stakeholders”… essentially stating that Dr. Green is the only person who can make these kinds of decisions – a czar of sorts. Interesting…
Do ANY DeKalb schools have unstructured break time in Middle School? To think that an 11 year old is somehow able to go from having PE and UBT daily to only 9 weeks of PE for the year and no UBT is very disheartening. Why can they not see the value of movement into middle school which would enhance academic performance, rather than hinder it?
Hi Karen. I’m not aware of any middle schools that have recess. My kids go to DeKalb public schools. My elementary kids have recess every day and P.E. every 6 school days (I think). My daughter in middle school has P.E. every day. On some days her P.E. is structured and some days it’s less structured. I imagine that’s the norm across the district.
The ground swell for more unstructured playtime is growing. This month Georgia’s House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of House Resolution 1342, requesting more time for unstructured play in schools.
Parents for Play is a Facebook group supporting longer recess (at least 30 minutes) for the children of Metro-Atlanta (Dekalb, Fulton Counties along with City of Decatur).
Physical education whether structuted or unstructured should be required daily in my opinion. It helps students take a mental break and burn off pinned up energy they usually have in the classroom. It helps them focus better and just keeps them more alert academically.
They desperately need to play and be kids and enjoy exerting their energy freely.