A doctor’s plea: Restore recess in metro Atlanta schools

Sarah Gard Lazarus, a parent, pediatric emergency room doctor and native Atlantan, writes today about the critical need for recess in schools to improve children’s health and well-being.

By Sarah Gard Lazarus

I’m a physician. In my practice, I fix things. If someone has a cut, I sew it. If someone has a fractured bone, I cast it. And when I see something broken in our school system, I must try to repair it.

Kindergartners get into recess. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Kindergartners get into recess. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

As a local pediatrician, I advocate for children on a daily basis. As a mother, I feel the need to advocate for my own children. Recess has been cut throughout metropolitan Atlanta to make time for test preparation. In many DeKalb and Fulton County schools, recess has been shortened to only 15 minutes per day. Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatrics cites 47 research articles that promote and recommend 60 minutes of active unstructured play daily.

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. Teachers reported being initially concerned that they would not have enough time to teach, but found that halfway through the year, they are far ahead of the academic schedule. Teachers have also noticed the children are more attentive, make better eye contact, and learn concepts more quickly.

Young children learn through movement. A child who has an unmet need to move cannot learn any better than a child who is hungry or sleep-deprived. Recess is not an unnecessary break from needed instructional time. Rather, recess provides children with the skills and physical foundation their brains need to learn effectively.

In many families throughout metro Atlanta, children do not have a safe place to play outside of school. Traffic, unsafe streets, or criminal activity may threaten their outdoor play-spaces. Some argue that socioeconomically disadvantaged children have the greatest need for more test preparation. However, these might be the children who are most harmed by a reduction in recess.

By depriving our children of recess, we are not improving test scores; we are creating unhealthier children and impeding learning. In Atlanta, 755 parents are standing by my petition for longer recess, and the movement is growing. Among these parents are impassioned physicians, educators, psychologists, psychiatrists, speech-language pathologists, and occupational therapists.

The question now is, will metro Atlanta schools do what’s right for our children?

 

 

Reader Comments 0

21 comments
MissA47
MissA47

I am a teacher in Northern Illinois. The school districts in my area have also done away with recess. The kids get to play for about 20 minutes after lunch; that's it. We also have winter weather to deal with and keep the students in on days when it's below zero. We have seen an increase in problematic behaviors. My district has spent a lot of time and money to implement a PBIS (positive behavior program) in our buildings. I believe if they would just let the kids play this would not be necessary. Another downside of no recess is the poor fine motor skills that we are now seeing.  The kids need to hang from monkey bars and grasp onto swings, etc. to develop the fine motor skills needed to do all of the writing work that we are now expecting. The demands have increased but yet we take away the fun part of going to school. No wonder there are behavior problems. If only administration would listen to those in the trenches and not the ones writing and selling the tests. I hope I see a change in this way of thinking before I retire. 

PublicEducationMattersGA
PublicEducationMattersGA

Dr. Lazarus,  Thank you for this eloquent statement on behalf of all our children. As a parent with a student in the Atlanta Public Schools' system, I'd like to join in your petition but I see it does not include APS. Could you broaden the petition to include APS? Many of my peers would like to send this message to the APS Board of Education as well.  Thank you!

DocSarahGLaz
DocSarahGLaz

@GradyClusterMom Thanks for the comment. I have tried to verify with APS that their recess is also only 15 minutes but was unable to reach anyone.   I did broaden the petition and appreciate your support.

L_D
L_D

@DocSarahGLaz @GradyClusterMom Have you considered not limiting your petition to metro Atlanta, but calling upon all school boards, the State Board of Education, and the Legislature to require all systems to increase recess for elementary students? 

Beach Bound2020
Beach Bound2020

I would also love to see a 60 minute daily physical activity for middle and high school students either through a PE class or a recess.  Back in the day, every middle and high school student had PE every day.  These students are under incredible pressures and stress and need that time as well.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

Yet another reason to support the dismantling of the massive, monolithic "geographically driven public school", that has no ability to customize it's programs to fit their actual kids. 


Create a school focused on rambunctious kids.  Include regular doses of recess/active play, to allow them to work off their energy.  And let parents who have these kids choose to move them to these focused schools.


But sadly can't have that, because somehow in the eyes of the eduacracy this "hurts public schools".  Sad...as if somehow "public schools" are what is important - not each individual student.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@dcdcdc


Why do you feel that only some children, ie the rambunctious ones, need to have play time or recess? You wouldn't be able to find a child expert anywhere to confirm that play or recess isn't an important part of every child's life. It would be wonderful to have a specialized neighborhood school for every characteristic of a child but it's not practical and cannot be done because the american public wouldn't want to take on the exorbitant costs to cover this. As it is we should invest in the public school system we have and ensure that our children are receiving the kind of education that will provide them with the necessary experiences to be successful in and out of school, not the kill and drill we have now thanks to our test-hungry politicians. 

RiSE Awards Autism
RiSE Awards Autism

Agree! Recess is helpful for many reasons including the ones listed as well as for children struggling with attention and sensory needs. The idea of going without a physical break increases behavioral disruptions in class and often can be withheld if the teacher is punishing the child as well, which is very outdated method. Hope this is followed through and implemented in other cities! Thanks for highlighting the need. 


AtlantaPeach30350
AtlantaPeach30350

I couldn't agree more completely. Fifteen minutes of recess a day is not enough for our youngest students. They cannot concentrate effectively for 7 or 8 hours a day. Surely our boards of educaton can work in another 15 minutes at least.

HILUX
HILUX

Yet another thinly disguised attack on testing and accountability. Have you no shame, Maureen?

DisenchantedVoter
DisenchantedVoter

@HILUX: You're embarrassing yourself and harming any credibility that the pro-high-stakes testing "accountability" crowd has left.

When parents, doctors, teachers, and kids are saying ENOUGH, then you should revise your agenda.

taylor48
taylor48

@HILUX So, you're OK with six and seven year old students sitting in a classroom for 7 or so hours a day without having a chance to play at all?  Am I understanding you correctly?

Legong
Legong

This column's crusade against school accountability is indeed a daily affair. And no, Maureen apparently has no shame.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@Legong


What about the accountability for the reform movement and their failed policies? Everything they do in their efforts to privatize our schools has been shown fail but, yet, they have pushed forward. What about ensuring that the policies they advocate have evidence of success and are actually developmentally appropriate for children. 

CSpinks
CSpinks

Will schools throughout Georgia do what is right for our kids?

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

"In Atlanta, 755 parents are standing by my petition for longer recess, and the movement is growing."

Maureen, I want to sign Dr. Lazarus' petition.  Got a link?

ZoeyDale
ZoeyDale

Thank you for highlighting this incredibly important and usually overlooked topic. Play is critical to the healthy development all children. The sooner we start understanding that and stop trying to force them to sit still and listen the more likely they will be to  successfully learn and blossom. The science is there. It's time those in charge start teaching for success, not teaching to the test. 

Cynthia Gentry

Play Atlanta

www.PlayAtlanta.org

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

I concur. Unfortunately recess has become the obvious target because of the testing craze. Our politicians should be ashamed that their actions have removed the play time that is absolutely necessary for young children. Why don't they insist on mandates for things that help children, not hurt them.

oh Pleese
oh Pleese

I agree wholeheartedly with the doctor's article.  As a recently retired highschool teacher I have seen so many physically inactive students who have trouble staying engaged.  Students who regularly play sports or take PE classes rarely fall asleep in class or seem overly restless.  High school students need physical activty time, too.  More time for physical activity is a great idea for all ages of youth and adults.