Originally published Dec. 30, 2019 by KPCW.org.

By Carolyn Murray

The Utah State Board of Education will consider designating recess periods for K through 8 as instructional time by providing more structure to the play time. A board-appointed committee approved the plan and now a decision will be voted on by the State Board of Education in early January.

If it is approved, state school board member, Jennie Earl says schools would add structure to the recess, as well as the breakfast period. The length of the school day would not change and the costs to implement a more structured recess class period would be minimal. She says research on the topic is extensive and it shows organized and unstructured physical activity during the school day provide many benefits for emotional and academic learning.

“Some of the other research that they found is that kids that go out and experience physical activity during recess, they’re less disruptive during the classroom so it helps them to stay on task better. It also helps them as far as the relationships with other children. They learn how to share, how to negotiate. It increases self-esteem and it helps to reduce the anxiety stress and depression within children where they can go out and engage with one another in some type of inactivity.”

Not all kids are active on the playground and some don’t interact with others at all during recess. Bullying and isolation often happens without playground monitors observing and they believe structured play time might engage more kids to be active. The committee envisions adults being trained to lead activities with rules of play and even teach leadership to other students by assigning responsibilities to coach or referee playground games.

“Create environments where children are more physically active. They have greater success. They have the negotiation skills. A lot of these programs will actually teach children some simple negotiation skills, simple ways of resolving conflicts in a game and then when everyone understands what those rules are, then it alleviates a lot of the stress, sometimes even the bullying that goes on or the you know I’m right you’re wrong.”

Professional guidelines suggest that kids get at least 20 minutes of recess a day and that it is not withheld from students for punishment or to make up work they didn’t complete at home or in class. The younger the child, the more play time is needed during the school day.

“A leadership role would need to take place at the school itself. There has to be buy-in from, whether it’s the leaders as educators or as principals themselves. And they begin the dialogue because creating the environment is one thing but actually being able to implement it is another.”

Earl says some schools in the state have contracted with outside consultants who assess the schools recess situation and give recommendations and tools to structure playtime. She says there are online tools as well as many grant opportunities that schools could consider. Earl assures teachers and parents that the state board does not intend to codify changes to how recess is conducted for now.

“It isn’t a policy, a rule or a law at this point. We have some policies as far as Healthy School Environments, and this could be part of those policies at the local district level, improving their resource plans. Right now, it is what we call a best practices recess guide.”

The committee approved the changes to the recess designation and will recommend the board includes breakfast time period before school as part of the same program. The recommendation goes to the full board on January 8.

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