Editorial: Recess is something that needs to be cherished

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette

As the Indiana General Assembly hurries toward the end of what was supposed to be a quiet session, the supermajority has once again changed the structure of education.

Senate Bill 1 attempts to address the literacy crisis by cracking down on third-grade student retention, adding additional tests and promoting summer school — just one year after schools were required to adopt Science of Reading strategies.

House Bill 1137 would allow students to receive faith-based education for up to two hours per week. Detractors wondered, among other things, where it would fit in an already-crammed schedule.

In the current educational landscape, where standardized testing, curriculum demands and academic pressures often dominate the discourse, the significance of recess is frequently overlooked.

“There’s this huge gap between what we know kids need and what we know is actually good for learning and how much we allot time for that,” William V. Massey, a professor at Oregon State University who studies the impacts of recess, told ABC News last summer.

Up to 40% of school districts nationwide have reduced or eliminated recess since the mid-2000s. In 2001, Chicago axed recess entirely for more class time in an attempt to boost test scores.

Yet, recess is not merely a break from the classroom routine but a fundamental aspect of a child’s holistic development.

Research shows recess is hardly a frivolous indulgence. Indeed, its importance is so fundamental that some state legislatures have created new guidelines.

Last year, California enacted a law defining recess as a 30-minute “period of time during the school day, separate and distinct from physical education courses and mealtimes … when pupils are given supervised and unstructured time for physical activity, play, organized games, or social engagement with peers.”

Furthermore, California will not allow administrators to dismiss recess as a punitive measure for bad behavior, much to the dismay of some educators.

Beginning in the 2006-07 school year, Indiana Code required that “the governing body of each school corporation shall provide daily physical activity for students in elementary school. The physical activity may include the use of recess.”

The application is open-ended. Fort Wayne Community Schools, for example, said it is committed to providing daily recess that encourages physical activity whenever possible, said Scott Murray, the district’s communications manager.

“These recess breaks are designed to include 20 minutes of supervised activity, ideally conducted outdoors,” he told The Journal Gazette. “Despite potential changes in state mandates and classroom schedules, our intention is to uphold our current recess practices to support the holistic development of our students.”

The most obvious counterargument is that organized sports do all of this. However, several studies show that sports participation is less common among children from lower-income homes.

A 2023 study published in BMC Public Health found that sports participation is consistently higher among socioeconomically advantaged individuals. However, group sports showed the lowest relative inequalities. There are sizable inequalities in racket, individual and specialty sports, such as golf, that people can continue to engage in as adults.

At its core, recess serves as a crucial outlet for addressing the growing concern of sedentary lifestyles among children. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded State of Childhood Obesity, Indiana ranks 19th best in the nation, with an obesity prevalence rate of just more than 15%. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, Hoosier adults 18-44 have an obesity prevalence rate of 36.5%, the sixth worst in the nation.

“I think the trend is pretty similar (for northeast Indiana),” Dr. Kanika Jaggi, a family medicine physician for Lutheran Health Network, told The Journal Gazette’s Maya Wilkins for a February story on pediatric obesity. “I am seeing more and more children, not just from toddler age but from infant age, that have obesity.”

Research indicates that recess plays a crucial role in enhancing children’s attentiveness in the classroom, in cognitive performance, and in reducing behavioral problems. A study conducted on fourth-grade students in Fort Worth, Texas, revealed that students who had 45 minutes of daily recess after returning to school following the COVID-19 lockdown had significantly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol after three months compared to students who had 30 minutes of recess.

By recharging their mental batteries through physical activity and play, recess optimizes their capacity for learning and problem-solving.

Moreover, outdoor play stimulates creativity, imagination and curiosity, fostering a love for exploration and discovery that extends beyond the confines of the classroom walls.

Though the current session is ending, the Indiana General Assembly should actively delve into the science of recess as part of a summer study group. There’s evidence it can improve fitness, build social skills and enhance the classroom learning process. What’s not to like — and safeguard — there?