Tuesday, November 04, 2014

They Are Counting On Us To Fight For Them

Seattle is not the only place where parents are rebelling against their public schools for more recess time. That's right, despite an overwhelming and ever-growing body of research proving that free play outdoors greatly improves cognitive, social, emotional, behavioral, and physical development in young children, school districts have cut recess time down to almost nothing. 

Outrageously, many of our local public schools only schedules two 15 minute recesses per day for five-year-olds in full-day kindergarten. That's hardly time to decide what to play, let alone actually engage in any sort of meaningful activity. Some of our schools have even gone so far as to combine lunch and recess giving children just 30 minutes for both, leaving them with the Sophie's choice between eating or playing outdoors, leading them to wolf down their food and throw much of it away in the rush to grasp a few moments of fresh air. And, of course, we've all heard of the absurd practice of punishing children who can't sit still by taking away their recess, the very thing these children, in particular, need the most.

Right across the country, recess is being absurdly sacrificed on the alter of "academic rigor" and "instructional time." It's just another of the abusive practices brought on by the corporate education reform movement, with it's high stakes testing and developmentally inappropriate focus on so-called "academics" at younger and younger ages. Simply put, this is killing our children while contributing nothing to their precious academic attainment, and probably, if the research is to believed, reducing it.

When asked, Seattle Public Schools responds with boilerplate:

Seattle Public Schools understands the importance of physical activity throughout the day for out students," said the statement. "Our students have opportunities in recess, gym class and during their regular classroom experiences to move and exercise their bodies as well as their minds.

To me, this statement alone is evidence that SPS is ignorant (perhaps willfully so) of the research on recess, and are are operating out of the dated idea that outdoor play is only about "blowing off" that proverbial steam or "getting their wiggles out." This was the leading theory on the purpose of play during the Victorian era, a notion that was challenged and disproven over a century ago by the likes of pioneers like Karl Groos, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, Maria Montessori, and John Dewey, and has continued to be disproven by current research. Gym class and physical movement during "regular classroom experiences" are structured physical activity, only superficially related to recess, which is about free play, outdoors, with your friends. These sorts of structured physical activities simply do not provide most of the benefits researchers find in recess.

It's unsurprising, of course, that school districts right across the country are reverting to a Victorian world view since they're being compelled to implement the Dickensian school "reform" measures brought to us by corporately-driven federal education initiatives like No Child Left Behind (Bush), Race To The Top (Obama), and the odious Common Core national curriculum, and other faith-based initiatives (I call them that because they ignore science) that are making life hell for our youngest citizens in their cruel demands that children do things that are damaging to their mental, physical, social, and emotional well-being.

Concerned Seattle parents are rallying under a Facebook page called Lunch & Recess Matter, a place where members have posted links to research and other information supporting the cause. And please take a moment to head over to sign the Change.org petition. There is probably a rebellion like this taking place your town: if not start it. Recess is a right of children everywhere and they are counting on us to fight for them.

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Amber said...

Absolutely spot on. I was appalled when I went to enroll my kindergartener and found that out. When I questioned them on the amount of time, they told me moving about the classroom during centers time was enough. Then, they told me they would start standardized testing 6 weeks in! 6 weeks! Granted this is in South Carolina, who has the dubious distinction of being 48th in the nation in education, but get a clue!!

We made the decision to homeschool instead. With less than 3 hours of "school" time a day (much of which is play, art, or movement based), and 2-3 hours minimum outside a day, she has bypassed the listed state standards for this time period, despite having dyslexia, speech apraxia and some minor fine motor/reflex issues.

I do wish we had a school like yours in our neck of the woods! It would be amazing and I think so many parents would hop on board! Thanks for writing this blog and sharing your experiences. They validate so many of my own thoughts and feelings on parenting and education.

Laura said...

My half day kindergartner has no recess, and my second grader has two recess for a total of 30 minutes, but teachers and staff are not punctual about getting the kids out, and sometimes up to 10 minutes of their 20 minute recess is spent standing in line to transition. Rainy day recesses are also structured and involve a lot of standing in line and being quiet.

I spoke to the principal and their teachers and they say they completely agree with me and do know and understand the importance of recess, breaks, and physical activity, but then throw their hands up and say there is nothing they can do. That logistics make it impossible to prioritize recess. They say there isn't enough supervision to be able to make transitions faster. There isn't enough space (or there is too much space in wide open fields) to let the kids run around safely, and of course the excuse of not enough time to fit in everything the state says they need to cover.

It is really hard for me to send my children to a place every day that I believe handicaps them physically and psychologically, especially when I know better.

Taylor Gray said...

It's definitely not like it was when I was in school. Recess was its own school period. It's sad that parents are having to fight the school system over physical kids focus if they have no release for all of their energy? Recess is their break that helps education class for kindergartens. How else can the get them through the rest of their day. What is a 6 year old supposed to do for 15 minutes anywhere? I agree with the statement about them not being able to even figure out what to play in a 15 minute span let alone enjoy it. School systems are over stepping boundaries and will soon find out that young children cannot function this way.

Unknown said...

So sad to read this, similar is happening here in Australia and is one of the many reasons I won't be sending my twins to kindergarten at 4.5 yrs. They love and need their outdoor play too much and I feel their learning journey will be stalled in the very atmosphere you describe in this post. How do we get them to understand the importance of unstructured physical outdoor play?

Papa Green Bean said...

Children need a lot of time to play and process in a playground. This environment is instrumental to success as a world class citizen...

J S Green