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Recess: Not all Fun and Games

Recess Isn’t All Fun and Games Anymore – It’s a Science

You remember recess, right? What did it look like at your school? Swings? Jump ropes? Board games? Tag? Teacher-led activities? Blocks? Monkey bars? Free play? Picture books? Tetherball?

Maybe it was all of the above. Or none.

An organization called SHAPE (Society of Health and Physical Educators) recently made a list of 19 evidence-based strategies to help schools around the country shape – okay, pun intended – their recess policies. It turns out that only eight states have laws on the books that require recess, and in turn, there’s very little consistency when it comes to what recess actually is.

As NPR notes, some of the strategies sound like common sense. “Designate spaces for indoor and outdoor recess,” for example. But without set policy, it’s pointed out, a school may cancel recess due to rain.

Partnering with SHAPE, Thomasville Primary School in Thomasville, N.C. is giving these new strategies a shot. After all, the benefits of recess are well documented: play helps students pay attention in class, prevents bullying, and sparks the development of social and emotional learning.

At first, Angela Moore, the principal at Thomasville Primary, wasn’t convinced. NPR reports that initially, “Moore [said] the program seemed too structured, and she thought it would force the students to play games that didn’t interest them.”

The payoff, though, was more clear than expected. Again, according to NPR:

Moore says she changed her mind when she saw how much more active students were at recess. And how much more the teachers were involved. The numbers prove it was working: Schoolwide discipline referrals, she says, have declined — from more than 100 last school year, to 24 so far this year. If that pattern continues for the rest of the school year, Moore notes, it would be a roughly 50 percent drop.

It’s a process, Moore admits. And some schools have additional challenges in adopting this type of structure – city schools, for example, may not have the physical space to embrace and enact all of SHAPE’s strategies. But the structure gives schools the opportunity to identify areas of improvement and start planning for the resources they need to make their recess program all fun and games – again.

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