Some Teton County parents want to make sure kids get guaranteed recess during the school day.
“As a parent I was concerned to learn about instances where recess was withheld for my own child,” Melissa Turley said. “I haven’t met a parent who’s disagreed with the importance of having a recess time for children, and I think any parent I’ve spoken with who’s had their child’s recess withheld had some concern about it.”
Parents like Turley have started pushing for a new recess policy by writing letters to the Teton County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees and attending last week’s last school board meeting.
Alli Noland said breaks like recess enhance focus and efficiency.
“From my own experience, I’m a more productive person when I get outside and get some exercise,” she said. “I realize that’s the same for my kids.”
Elementary schools offer 25 to 30 minutes of recess a day. Some schools have two periods that make up that total time, and others have one.
The school district addresses physical activity in a “health and wellness” policy adopted in November 2017: “Students shall be given opportunities for physical activity during the school day through daily recess periods and elective and mandatory PE classes.”
Parents are asking for a separate recess policy with more specifics.
“It’s not the most pressing issue in education, but it’s something we should be able to solve,” Turley said.
They are asking that recess time — at least 20 minutes a day — be codified, including when outdoor recess isn’t an option. They are also asking that recess not be withheld as a disciplinary measure. That, they believe, is counterproductive.
“I certainly understand teachers and administrators have consequences for student behavior, just like parents,” Turley said. “But making appropriate consequences is really important.”
Noland said, “At the end of the day, all I really want is for these kids to get the best educational experience they can have but also have a childhood and play.”
Research backs up parents’ personal experiences and anecdotes, finding that safe and supervised play in the form of recess results in cognitive, social, emotional and physical benefits.
The American Academy of Pediatrics states that recess plays a “crucial” role in school and believes that “recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.”
The report summary states that “recess is at the heart of a vigorous debate over the role of schools in promoting the optimal development of the whole child.” With more time spent in school focusing on academic subjects, the report said, recess, a “necessary break” from the rigors of the rest of the day, is even more important. The academy also differentiates between physical education and recess, saying one is not a substitute for the other.
Support for recess also extends outside the United States. Article 31 of the U.N. Convention on Rights of the Child states that children have the right to play. Research from Georgia State University says “many other countries, some of them top-ranking in international tests, give their children more frequent or extensive play breaks than does the United States.”
It’s likely the Teton County school board will consider the issue this summer. During the May monthly meeting, Chairwoman Betsy Carlin told parents a discussion on recess policy will be included when the board looks at numerous new policies provoked by state changes.
“I’m absolutely hopeful they adopt the policy,” Turley said. “What we put forward is very bare bones. They will likely want to make some adjustments to make it appropriate for our district.”
Parents said that at this stage in the process they felt the school board was responsive and looked forward to working with board members — perhaps forming an ad hoc committee down the road.
“The school board in Teton County is really hyperaware of the issues that go on and they’re super informed and they care,” Noland said. “I understand that they’re doing the best they can to provide the best experience for all these kids.”