Tuesday, May 22, 2012
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Working at my desk when the sun is shining outside is tough. I long for those good old days in elementary and middle school when I got to go outside for recess. Recently, however, I found out that some kids may not get to experience this fond childhood memory of mine. Many New York City schools are slowly replacing recess with concentrated learning activities.
“It’s not an uncommon practice, especially in schools where there’s a real focus on test scores,” states Dr. Lisa Altshuler, Director of the Kids Weight Down Program. “Because of increased teacher accountability and changes in the Department of Education, they want to see improvement in academics – but it comes at a price of children’s physical activity.” Recess, gym class and other athletic activities are being cut by schools and it’s a troubling issue. “I think it’s a big problem because it impacts kids’ physical health and, in some ways, is very self-defeating,” notes Dr. Altshuler.
There is a great deal of evidence (as recent as 2009) which shows breaks for physical activity actually improve focus in the classroom and academic performance. “Children are not only able to work off excess energy that gives the brain time to consolidate information, but cognitive function improves because of increased blood flow which provides glucose and oxygen to the brain,” explains Dr. Altshuler.
We forget that kids can learn important skills from unstructured play that they can’t learn in the classroom. “Children can figure out how to work together, the importance of taking turns and dealing with winning or losing,” states Dr. Altshuler. “There’s a whole range of social skills that kids may have difficulty learning.” In terms of independent learning and socialization, many experts fear that kids might be lacking because of the decrease of unstructured free play.
Last, but certainly not least – there’s the issue of limiting children’s physical activity and its affect on obesity. The CDC recently estimated that, by 2030, 42% of Americans will be obese. “If the goal of education is to give kids life long skills, being accustomed to and enjoying physical activity should be one of them,” emphasizes Dr. Altshuler. If children are encouraged to participate in sports and physical activities, they are more likely to carry that interest into adulthood.
So what can you do to help your kid stay active? “If your child’s recess or period for physical activity is diminishing at school, finding opportunities for exercise after school is important,” states Dr. Altshuler. She also recommends parents be actively engaged in the school community. “Speak with teachers and administrators if you feel that recess is important, and make sure that homework requirements are realistic,” she states. “Kids should have time after school to unwind and have unstructured time.”
While my ‘recess’ consists of walking to the deli on the corner to get a cup of coffee, I really hope that more people will recognize the importance of recess for elementary and middle school children. What do you think? Should kids get a break – or should their time be filled with studying?