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Ask Judy: Is recess required?

Thursday, 06 October 2011 14:19

Dear Judy,

Our neighborhood school (in Brooklyn) does not have outdoor recess time. The children never have a chance to play outside. Every day they must sit in the cafeteria for 50 minutes in silence. Absolutely no talking allowed. To me, it seems abusive. There is a huge yard adjacent to the school, but the administration refuses to let the children go outside. I wonder if there are any regulations in regards to recess time, or it is up to the schools. Thank you.

Mrs. K

Dear Mrs. K:

You might be surprised to know that the Department of Education does have a policy that calls for recess every day, preferably out of doors. I am surprised, not only that that your school does not allow kids to go outdoors after lunch, but also that sitting silently in a cafeteria passes for recess. Most schools provide indoor games and activities when kids don't go out, because of bad weather or the kids choose to stay in. While there are many parent complaints about kids being made to watch videos of questionable quality at recess, that's another story.

Recess guidelines come under a Wellness Policy which was developed by the Office of School Health (OSH), a joint program of the New York City Department of Education and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The policymakes clear that 20 minutes daily of outdoor recess is encouraged, even in cold weather.

"Daily Recess - In addition to physical education classroom time, DOE encourages principals to provide elementary school students with at least 20 minutes a day of supervised recess, preferably outdoors, during which time staff encourage moderate to vigorous physical activity and provide appropriate space and equipment."

The Office of School Health also has a policy which spells out guidelines for outdoor play, even in bad weather.

"Children benefit from vigorous exercise and should be given the opportunity to play outside whenever possible. Unless it is snowing or there is ice on the playground, low temperatures should not be a barrier to outside play, as long as children are appropriately dressed. The Health Department strongly encourages principals to maintain outdoor play periods on the vast majority of winter days."

Some schools complain that there are not enough school aides to supervise outdoor play. The upcoming cuts in school aide jobs will certainly undercut recess even in schools that do send their kids out to play. In past budget crunches, many schools formed parent committees to take turns on the playground and also help out in the lunch room. They have continued successfully even in better budget times.

Have you talked to other parents about the lack of recess at your school? What about the School Leadership Team (SLT) developing a proposal along those lines? If you get no satisfaction that way, try contacting your school's network leader. That's the person responsible for working with the principal. You can also try the district family advocate for advice and ideas.

A new audit by the Comptroller's Office, made public this week, shows that there is widespread non-compliance with state physical education guidelines. For example kindergarten through 3rd graders should have daily physical education instruction, but few of them do. Fourth-6th graders should be getting phys ed three times a week.

I wonder if your school meets state standards and whether the principal rationalizes that outdoor recess is risky, labor intensive, and not necessary. The health and well-being of kids does require an active break called recess – and an outdoor break from stuffy classroom air

Have any other parents out there lobbied successfully for more recess time? How did you do it? Please share your ideas.


Last modified on Wednesday, 09 November 2011 15:53

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