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Reminder to Insist on Daily Recess for Elementary School Students (and Say No to School Chaos)

Posted Aug 07 2013 6:47am
I had gotten excited a week ago when I saw that the elaborate temporary trailer classrooms that had been in place for the last eight years at the elementary school my daughters attended years ago were being removed.  Except for a couple of workers, I was the only one there witnessing this. I remembered when this used to be a ball field where kids (including my older daughter) played kickball during PE class and made up elaborate games during recess.  I also remembered how we used to walk over there and fly kites on weekends, in a city with a parks-to-citizens ratio of 3.25 acres per 1,000 citizens (which is less than a third of the national recommendation) with no sign of an increase in parkland in sight.

But, alas, no. Different (not new) trailers are coming (the entire area is now a fenced-in, hard-hat-required, work zone), and they will house the entire fourth and fifth grades. And the trailers will be weeks later in arriving than the first day of school, which is next Monday, causing a mad ruckus of logistics right now in a county school system that continues to be completely in crisis (it has been in the national news, and you'll be seeing more of it). This field may never again be available for PE, recess, or after school/weekend play. Enjoy the site of it while you can.

chart from an article on CNN
So I'm thinking of all this when I see a report today that, for the first time in years, childhood obesity numbers are finally dropping in the United States. And I believe that many things are helping with this improvement, including increased availability and access to healthy food for all, increased nutritional education, more transparent food labeling requirements, and more diligent efforts to provide children with physical activity opportunities at their schools and in their communities (that are part of the public environment, like this , and are not pay-to-play). And I hope that maybe, finally, people are realizing that little things like guaranteed daily recess not only matter but ultimately can change lives (and, yes, even protect national security--see America's Kids Too Fat for the Military ). See Recess: Pretty Soon Your Child May Not Know What It Is for the many reasons recess is important, and questions you as a parent can ask.

And then I realize that my county-in-crisis can't even get classrooms for kids in time. Goodness knows its leaders are not focusing on ensuring a safe place for daily recess and requiring their teachers to honor it, as required by the policy its own board passed. (See DeKalb County, GA, USA Joins Other School Districts Nationwide That Are Restoring Children's Right to Recess . That is also one of the most viewed posts on FoodShed Planet of the more than 1,000 I've written.) 

Oh, wait, the entire board has been kicked out. But the policy still exists, in my county school system and other school systems all over the United States. Parents, this one's on you. Get informed, and get involved. Children need a minimum of 15 minutes every single day during school hours to move, for many reasons . (And this cannot be taken away as punishment, to finish up work, or because it's raining, nor does PE class count as recess.) 

When I got pushback about dependable daily recess when my younger daughter was in fourth grade, I told the principal that I was taking my daughter out for fifteen minutes each day and creating my own recess, and I asked what time would be least disruptive to do that. Guess what? My daughter's class had no problem with recess from that day on.

Yes, work with your system and be cooperative. But when they tell you, "Please be patient while we work out our other problems," just say no. Because children don't wait. They grow up. ( Here's the article with that title I was asked to write for Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution site , specifically about healthy food but it applies to recess as well.) If something doesn't make sense to you, listen to your gut. And find a solution that works. Trust me--no one cares about your child's long-term health except you.

Here are My Gifts to Parents of Younger Children as They Go Back to School (written last year at this time). Perhaps by sharing my experiences and suggestions, you may be able to save some time and anguish and help your children get on with their job of healthy living and learning, plus keep some semblance of sanity in your family's life. Plus, you may find it helpful to discover you are not alone, and that much of the groundwork has been done for you already by parents with older children than yours all over this country and world.

A final note--say no to chaos. When someone tells me to hurry up, I step back and take a breath. When things get crazy with parent sign-ups and schedules and all the other shenanigans that create increasing, unnecessary pandemonium, I remind myself that I am on a joy-based journey and I don't have to do things the way others are doing them. These may be the biggest lessons of all that my daughters and I have learned the hard way.  
eclectic food-for-thought for a changing world
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