Back when I was a kid, I spent an inordinate amount of time outside playing. Being the only girl in a neighborhood full of boys made tree climbing, skateboarding, and lizard finding inevitable daily activities. I learned at a young age how to ride on someone else’s bike pegs… none of that handlebar crap for me. Sure, sometimes I came home filthy. I also sometimes came home bloody. To this day, my mother still sighs heavily when she tells the tale of the time I fell and cracked my eye socket, and the resulting ER visit where every doctor asked at least ten times HOW exactly it happened. I was a kid. I was klutzy then, just like I am now.
We would come home from school, check in with our parents (who were always at work, this was the 80’s and latch key kids ruled) and get our homework done in anticipation of the moment we could be free to roam through the neighborhood until dinnertime. Television was something reserved for Saturday mornings, sick days home from school, and occasionally weeknights when Alf was on. Or when there was an Afterschool Special on a particularly hot topic (seriously, does anyone remember those? Riveting, folks. Riveting.) Did I mention no internet?
When we lived in the city, there was no way my kids were going outside to play without me supervising. Did I think they were going to get kidnapped and held for ransom? Not particularly, but watching cars speed 50-60mph down our residential street made me less inclined to find out. I couldn’t wait for the day when we moved, out to the relative safety of the suburbs, much like the area where I grew up. Then I could open the door, kick them out, and say “go play!” when they got annoying.
Except, it appears to not be a thing.
When we looked at houses this past summer, it was kind of a weird phenomenon in every neighborhood we went to. There were telltale signs of children being present - chalk drawings on sidewalks, basketball hoops, abandoned kiddie pools - but there didn’t actually seem to BE any children anywhere. After several showings in “family” neighborhoods, I finally pondered it out loud. My realtor gave me a quizzical look and said, “kids don’t play outside anymore.”
Sadly, this ended up being mostly true. I do love our neighborhood, and I certainly do throw my kids outside when they’re annoying. Unfortunately, unless they head over to a friends house, there isn’t much for them to do because everyone else is inside. Kids don’t even walk by themselves to the bus stop in suburbia. When it’s cold out, they sit in a well-warmed minivan until the bus comes.
So when are these kids supposed to get their requisite 60 minutes of Obama-mandated physical activity in? Clearly it isn’t happening at home, because 19% of children ages 6–17 are obese. That’s almost FOURTEEN MILLION FAT KIDS. That’s a lot of McNuggets.
Interestingly, there are schools out there trying to take recess out of the daily routine. Despite the nationwide math and reading scores (of grade school, middle school, AND high school) rising (and also the high school completion rate rising) the proverbial “they” thinks it’s a great idea to remove recess in favor of more classroom time.
Sacrificing physical education for classroom time DOES NOT improve academic performance. Many schools systems have downsized or eliminated PE under the assumption that more classroom instructional time will improve academic performance and increase standardized test scores. The available evidence contradicts this view.¹
Well, pardon the expression - but no DUH. When my kids are physically exhausted, not only are they happier, but they behave better. That goes double for my ADHD child, but it applies to my normal learners too. Why wouldn’t you want that in your classroom? But it’s okay, they have gym class, right?
A study² of 77 California public schools found that for every 30 minutes of scheduled PE time, only 4 minutes was being used for actual heart-pumping vigorous activity. The rest of the time was spent doing attendance, assigning teams, explaining rules, and presumably for the younger set, tying shoelaces. California law requires 100 minutes of physical education per week at the elementary level, and 200 minutes per week in secondary schools. I know I’m no math whiz, but from what I can see, that means you’re failing.
So to recap:
School scores are up, despite the massive push towards common core and standardized testing (another rant for another day, that) yet, physical activity (which is shown to improve academic performance AND lower health risks related to obesity) is being removed to make more time for classroom time.
GO TEAM ‘MURICA!
Seriously, kids need recess. Just like nutrition, recess is just one component in the web of a positive and effective learning environment. Healthy kids learn better. Better learners are the cornerstone of educated and successful adults. Urge your schools to support keeping recess in the schedule.
¹Trost, Stewart G. Active Education: Physical Education, Physical Activity and Academic Performance