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Even Congress Gets Recess, So Why Are Schools Taking It Away From Kids?

Recess -- the one section of the school day that's reserved for child-directed, child-motivated unstructured play -- is slowly disappearing from our public schools.
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While summer is a great time for kids to get outside, play, and be active, this fun shouldn't end when school starts. In fact, studies have shown that kids who are given the opportunity to take a break from their hectic academic schedules actually develop and perform better than those who go without.

Unfortunately, recess - the one section of the school day that's reserved for child-directed, child-motivated unstructured play - is slowly disappearing from our public schools.

According to a 2007 study conducted by The Center on Education Policy, schools have cut recess time to an average of 29 minutes a day, with some districts eliminating recess altogether or reducing it to just a few minutes per day. The study also showed that children who attend high-minority, high-poverty, or urban schools are more likely to get no recess at all.

The Alliance for Childhood's recent report "Crisis in the Kindergarten" revealed that urban and suburban public kindergartens today are increasing stress on academic standards, spending more time teaching regulated, regimented curricula.

While supporters of these policies are trying to increase academic performance, these tactics are backfiring. Children with decreased levels of recess aren't achieving at higher levels and, in fact, are distracted and taking away from classroom time with disruptive outbursts.

A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics notes that children who had more than 15 minutes of recess a day showed better behavior in class than those who had little or none. The study also found that 30 percent of children surveyed were deprived of recess in their school day.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the New York City Department of Education also conducted a recent study that revealed children who are more physically fit, have higher academic test scores, regardless of race, ethnicity or sex.

The physical activity and social interactions gained from free play is essential to the healthy physical, emotional and cognitive development of children. It is imperative that we allow our children daily recess time to run, jump, swing - and learn. Join me, KaBOOM! and the many others in the movement for play as we continue to rally communities across the country to save recess in our schools.

What can parents do to help?

Besides facilitating play in the home, parents can also advocate the benefits of play in schools. There are a growing number of organizations that are working to combat the decline of play with the implementation of physical activity programming in America's schools.

Playworks is a national non-profit organization that works on-site with hundreds of low-income schools in major urban areas to help transform recess into a tool to support learning. At each of its sites, Playworks provides full-time, trained staff to promote play and physical fitness with games and classroom activities.

PE4Life provides schools with a wide range of program supports for individual physical education programs. Their services include assessment and evaluation, consultation on implementation and to ongoing support services.

Peaceful Playgrounds is another great resource for parents, educators and school administrators. Their website contains a slew of information on the benefits of recess, a number of activity guides for kids in pre-school through grade 6. You can also check out their blog for up-to-date information on the state of recess in the nation's schools.

If you know of other programs working to save recess in schools, feel free to comment. Our movement to save play across the United States can only grow stronger as we continue to share information, ideas and resources and move towards more collective actions.