Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why we all need recess!

Here is another instance of our conventional wisdom being proved to be quite wise: All work and no play makes us unhappy, unhealthy, and ultimately, unproductive.

Jane Brody in today's Personal Health column in the NYT reports on the benefits of what public health professor Tori Yancey calls “Instant Recess — the title of her new book (University of California Press), in which she demonstrates the value of two 10-minute breaks of enjoyable communal activity as part of people’s everyday lives."

I cheer anytime anyone says that I need not exercise in swaths of time that I simply do not have. Not only that, I actually kind of hate exercise. There. I said it.

Yet, since June 2009, I have stuck to an almost-daily routine of what I call micro-running, which involves dropping off one child (or occasionally, two children) at child-care, school, or summer camp, then running a short "loop" back home. It used to take about 10 minutes to run the loop, but I have surprised myself with how much easier the hills seem to take. Rather than making the loop longer, I have been challenging myself by picking up the pace.

I look forward to microruns as a way to clear my mind and ready myself for work. However, I readily admit to enjoying other benefits of exercise: Ah, vanity. I am now down to my pre-childbearing weight - not just pre-Bubbie, but pre-Beanie.

Re-finding my shape occasioned a visit to H&M yesterday after my sister remarked on the pre-Beanie jeans that I was wearing: "Wow, those are old." Referring not so much to their faded condition, but to their lamentable lack of fashion. Ouch. Because regardless of whether or not we "care" about style, it hurts to know that we do not have it. I mean, I could not even claim that I was being anti-fashion: Got to know the rules in order to break them. Quite the opposite: I had felt so good about being able to fit into them after all this time! It made me feel like the 7th grader who finally is teased to awareness that his mother has been dressing him in pants with elasticated waist bands. Oh, wait. That was StraightMan's story.

Enough about sartorial sense, or lack thereof. As a parenthropologist, I took particular interest in instant recess for kids:

Likewise, she said, 10-minute exercise breaks during the school day could do more to forward the goals of No Child Left Behind than double that amount of time spent trying to stuff math and English into students’ heads. She cited a federally financed study by the University of Kansas conducted at 24 low-income public schools.

The study, which included a matched control group, found that 10-minute activity breaks, usually done to music, led to improved scores in math, spelling and composition among the participants. The students also increased their activity levels outside school, on weekdays and weekends, and gained less weight than those in the schools who did not institute fitness breaks.

This study is especially telling because in schools around the country, physical education classes and outdoor recess have fallen prey to the demands to improve test scores.

Finally. I now have a public health justification for turning up the volume and having a little Pet Shop Boys moment in the middle of my day.

Mine might not be the majority opinion, but I think recess ought to be treated like lunch: All kids need to have it. This means also rethinking recess as a "privilege" that becomes taken away: Based on talk with parents and teachers, it seems like the same kids (especially boys) lose recess over and over again. I understand the aims of adults trying to guide kids meaningfully to understand the consequences of their actions, but it seems to me both that losing recess does not result in real understanding and that any "correction" in behavior resulting from losing recess will be a short-term gain.

I tend to think that the kids who "act out" the most probably have the most need also to be guided toward acting out productively.

StraightMan suggests that instead of losing recess, kids who act out should be required to run laps around the playground.

I say there ought to be mandatory "Macarena."


  1. If everyone knows this, how come recess feels so threatened? Anything arty or physical is the first thing on the chopping block.

    I *love* the idea of running laps for detention.

  2. At my high school, detention was called "Dean's Club" and it involved running with the dean of students before morning chapel.

  3. Straight Man is onto something...my friend whose 10 yr old son has ADHD will have him jump on their trampoline vs sending him to his room when he "acts out"....

  4. We need to teach the "Whole Child," rather than cater to state tests. No Child left Behind should instead be No child left without breakfast, healthcare, enough sleep, exercise, and love, to name a few...

    A teacher nearby...

  5. Hear, hear! How we treat our kids seems a decent measure of the wellness of our society.