Last month, Fit and Fun Playscapes featured a guest post on our blog from Michael J. Hynes, E.D., about the necessity of play and recess in a child’s day. In particular, the post discussed how recess plays an important role in a child’s mental health and development.
The importance of recess in a child’s development is just one of the many reasons Fit and Fun Playscapes advocates for daily recess. However, despite scores of research over nearly a decade suggesting recess elicits positive benefits for students (see our series of blog posts on just this topic) only seven — Missouri, Indiana, Virginia, Florida, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island — require daily recess.
In the days of increasing academic pressures and time spent in front of the computer screen, today’s recess policies, perhaps more than ever before, need to be examined and re-evaluated.
The above graphic does well to showcase specific policies by state. Some states, like Texas or Iowa, have a general activity requirement, meaning students must participate in a certain number of hours of physical activity per week (or month). Others, like New York and Alabama, have requirements based around physical education (PE) classes. Only nine, California and Oklahoma among them, formally recommend recess. But none, with the exception of two, are making any significant progress towards actual mandated daily recess.
Take New York’s policies, for example. A PDF provided by SHAPE America (Society of Health and Physical Educators) discloses that New York “mandates at least 120 minutes of physical education per week in grades K-6, but does not require daily recess. Students in grades K-3 must have daily physical education, and students in grades 4-6 must have physical education at least three times per week. The state also mandates at least 90 minutes per week of physical education in grades 7-12 and requires all schools, including high schools, to provide physical education to all students. At the secondary level, this must be provided at least three times per week in one semester and two times per week in the other semester.”
In other words, recess in New York is left entirely in the hands of particular schools or districts. This leaves somewhere around 2.6 million students in New York without required daily recess, putting them at higher risk for developing mood disorders and obesity than those with a state-mandated requirement. But that isn’t all. Less recess time also means less unstructured play, which has been shown to play an important role in childhood social development.
What Is Unstructured Play?
Unstructured play can be defined as open-ended play in which there are no pre-set objectives or goals that must be met by participants in the activity. Far from “just messing around,” unstructured play has an important role in developing a child’s cognitive and executive functions. A 2014 study, published in Frontier Psychology, for example, confirmed a link between better self-directed control and unstructured play in children.
“When considering our entire participant sample,” wrote Jane E. Barker, Andrei D. Semenov, et al., the authors of the study, “children who spent more time in less-structured activities displayed better self-directed control, even after controlling for age, verbal ability, and household income. By contrast, children who spent more time in structured activities exhibited poorer self-directed EF, controlling for the same factors.”
As of Sept. 2018, several states are moving forward with initiatives to mandate daily recess in public schools. Arizona will join the list of states requiring daily recess starting in the 2019-20 school year, while a promising bill is making rounds in the Massachusetts legislature aimed at requiring the very same thing. New Jersey, too, just recently passed a bill requiring mandatory recess just two years after former governor Chris Christie called the bill “stupid.” But many more states have yet to take the first step and are not showing any inclination to do so.
What policies does your state enact towards recess? Is your state making any steps towards mandatory daily recess? Let us know!
*Note: There is a lot of conflicting information out there regarding mandatory recess. If the map is inaccurate in any way, please let us know! We will update this post as we receive more info.