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Recess: Don’t Let It Go!

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Last month an elementary school in Colorado made headlines after word spread that students were being subjected to “silent lunches.” A so-called “1-inch voice” rule was in place while Kindergarten through fourth-graders were in the cafeteria, “meaning they could only open their mouth 1 inch and use a very clear voice,” according to The Aspen Times.

Signs that read, “Stop” and “Shhhh,” and a whistle were used whenever the noise rose to what the principal and vice-principal determined was an excessive level. The result was some kids reporting feeling frightened while eating lunch, leading some teachers to weigh whether to take their classes to the cafeteria at all.

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The principal said the rule was in place simply to try and “foster an environment that promotes proper behavior,” and while parents and teachers there said they are certainly not against manners, one summed it up best when saying, “Lunch is one of their only downtimes in the day. [Kids] have to sit still in class and be good in class, and lunch is a social time.”

There’s little question that plenty of kids could use a refresher on the Do’s and Don’ts of mealtime and playground etiquette, but further restricting them during their already-limited downtime is hardly the answer. A group of Florida parents is also fighting that battle now — although instead of arguing their kids need to have the freedom to let down their hair more, these moms and dads are saying their kids don’t have enough (or any) time to let down their hair.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that outside of many elementary schools in Florida last week, parents were seen picketing with "Frozen"-themed signs that read, “Recess, don’t ‘Let it go!’”

Florida’s Department of Education doesn’t have requirements in place that deem recess a necessary part of the school day. Instead, unstructured playtime is a decision left to school boards and individual principals throughout the state. One parent in the Sunshine State told Yahoo that his son, who is in fourth grade, “has never had recess before,” and that he disagrees with his kid’s school leadership philosophy, which states that “more classroom time equals better academic performance.”

Not surprisingly, more parents are being more vocal about their kids not getting enough free play in school, especially since many of them only have 30 minutes of physical education each day. Letter writing campaigns and online petitions have been launched to try and address and remedy the situation.

One issue of inadequate recess is the smaller size of some schools and the limited amount of play space, but a bigger part of the problem is a demanding schedule of academic requirements dictated by counties and the state. As a story on NPR last year said, “schools nationwide are under growing pressure to add instructional time, and recess is often one of the first things to get squeezed.” This, despite “a growing body of research shows that play is fundamental to kids' development by promoting social interaction, exploration and creativity.”

“Squeezing recess into a school day already packed with state mandates for 150 minutes of physical education per week, 90-minute reading blocks every day and other core classes creates many challenges,” one school principal told the Sentinel.

However, when comparing test scores of students in the United States to their counterparts across the globe, you’ll see that kids here are lagging behind some 64 other countries in math, reading and science. No correlation has been made between more classroom time and less free play, at least not domestically.

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On the contrary, the journal Pediatrics found that recess plays a “crucial” role in school because of its contribution to a child’s development: “Recess represents an essential, planned respite from rigorous cognitive tasks. It affords a time to rest, play, imagine, think, move and socialize. After recess, for children or after a corresponding break time for adolescents, students are more attentive and better able to perform cognitively. In addition, recess helps young children to develop social skills that are otherwise not acquired in the more structured classroom environment.”

It would seem that the school administrators who don’t recognize how work and play go hand-in-hand would be well-served — and serve their students well — by going back to school themselves.

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