December 10, 2009 in City

As academics grow, recess recedes

Study finds most of state’s schools lack study break policy
By The Spokesman-Review
Jesse Tinsley photo

Stuck with indoor recess because of the extreme cold, fourth-graders Aubree Hains, left, Tyjeus Golden and Natasia Brown play with Lincoln Logs in their classroom at Holmes Elementary on Wednesday. The Washington Legislature will consider a new report about the frequency and length of school recesses.
(Full-size photo)

Playing by the law

The 2009 Washington Legislature noted in Senate Bill 5551, which ordered the study, that recess is necessary for a child’s healthy mind and body.

When asked their favorite school subject, the reply from many elementary students might be “recess.”

But a recent study of Washington schools found that 30 percent had reduced recess because of staffing issues and the need for more academic time. The study, released Wednesday, also found that schools lack adequate facilities for recess during bad weather and few have policies regarding recess.

The study was ordered by the 2009 Legislature. Washington lawmakers – noting in Senate Bill 5551 that recess is necessary for a child’s healthy mind and body – were interested in knowing more about the designated playtime.

State leaders’ primary concern was the rise in childhood obesity rates.

So the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Washington Congress of Parents and Teachers e-mailed a survey to 1,190 elementary school principals. About 600 responded.

“Schools that responded were predominately of small to mid-size,” the study states. But schools in the metropolitan areas of Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane also replied.

According to the study, most schools provide at least one recess; only nine said they did not have recess every day. About 50 percent indicated they had two recesses a day, and 21 percent offered three. A large majority of the schools provided at least 30 minutes for recess.

Spokane Public Schools has 34 elementary schools. The number and length of recesses is determined by each school, said Terren Roloff, district spokeswoman.

Matt Handelman, principal at Moran Prairie Elementary, said allowing time for recess has become increasingly difficult because of academic demands. Some grades have fewer breaks each day than they did several years ago or only one to three a week.

“Kindergarten, especially in colder weather and half days, can’t afford the time it takes to get kids bundled up and down, in addition to the time outside,” he said.

To avoid dealing with coats, hats and mittens, some schools have indoor playtime. Several Spokane Public Schools buildings used that method Wednesday as temperatures remained in the low teens.

More than 50 percent of the schools responding to the survey said they lacked the facilities for students to play outside in bad weather. Some respondents said they sent kids out no matter the weather.

Other than the Tacoma School District, no district had policies regarding recess, the study found.

The report will go to the 2010 Legislature for consideration.

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