State-Mandated Recess May be Coming to New Jersey Schools

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State-Mandated Recess May be Coming to New Jersey Schools
We look at current legislation New Jersey lawmakers are considering that would mandate recess time in all public schools. Do kids need outdoor playtime to learn better?
Recess has been a core component of the public education experience as long as most adults can remember. However, pressure from high-stakes testing and other concerns often make outdoor play time a casualty in the quest to improve academic performance. Some school districts have limited the amount of outdoor time students get in a school day, while a few have eliminated the practice altogether. Now, a New Jersey lawmaker is on a whole new quest – to guarantee public school students in her state get the outdoor time they need to succeed.
 
About S-1501
 
The new bill that has been introduced to the New Jersey state senate is S-1501, according to NJ Spotlight. The bill, authorized by State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) requires all public schools to provide at least 20 minutes of recess time daily to students in grades K-5. The measure recently passed unanimously in the Senate Education Committee, and is now headed to the full Senate for consideration.
 
This bill is nothing new to Turner, who has been advocating for mandatory recess time in schools since 2009. Turner, who is also a college administrator, firmly believes that students perform better academically when they receive a “play break” during the school day. Nj.com reports that Turner has plenty of experts and research in her court, backing up the idea that daily breaks should be an integral part of the learning process.
 
Health Benefits of Recess
 
The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends that children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily, according to NorthJersey.com. The American Heart Association was also cited in the article as attributing the growing problem of childhood obesity in the United States to a sedentary lifestyle among many children today. The organization voiced concern over the amount of time children spent playing video games and watching television programs instead of getting physical exercise.
 
“Childhood obesity has become an epidemic in the United States with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimating that 17 percent of children and adolescents are obese, a number that has tripled since 1980,” Turner stated at NorthJersey.com.
 
Children do not play outdoors in their neighborhoods as they once did for a variety of reasons, according to NJ.com. Some parents are concerned about allowing their children outside unsupervised, due to the danger of predators. Others simply allow their children to remain indoors because that is increasingly where children want to be – playing on the computer, playing video games and watching television. By increasing outdoor playtime in school, some hope that will help to contribute to the 60 minutes of activity children need to remain physically and mentally healthy.
 
Academic Benefits of Recess
 
One reason experts tout the importance of recess from an academic standpoint is a theory they refer to as the “surplus energy theory.” Studies have shown that students forced to sit and learn for long periods of time eventually become fidgety and unable to focus on their work. At this point, children are not able to absorb information as effectively as they could during the earlier learning hours.
 
In her blog, journalist Annie Murphy Paul cites research from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that shows most public school principals believe recess during the school day enhances a student’s ability to learn in the classroom. In addition, the blog notes a 2009 study by the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which showed that when students had 15 minutes or more of recess time daily, their behavior in the classroom improved.
 
A more recent study from the American Academy of Pediatrics indicated that recess provided benefits that went well beyond the general physical health of students. According to NJ Spotlight, the study found that students received physical, social and physiological benefits from their outdoor playtime.
 
“Studies show that recess provides students with core skills needed to succeed in the classroom and in life,” Turner was reported as saying at NorthJersey.com. “Not only does it help students develop cognitive skills, and teach them teamwork, cooperation and communication skills, but it is also essential for the health of our children.”
 
Why Mandated Recess Might be a Bad Idea
 
Despite the many benefits of outdoor playtime, some lawmakers and school administrators have voiced concern over the new bill heading to the New Jersey Senate. Some are worried that the time mandated for recess would take away time that is already tight for teaching subjects on standardized tests. Senator Nicholas Sacco (D-North Bergen) told NJ.com that as a lifelong educator, he is concerned the bill would have unintended consequences. He cited the time constraints teachers already face to teach material. He also wondered about school that did not have appropriate outdoor or indoor space to house recess time safely.
 
Elaine Baldwin, the interim superintendent for the Woodland Park School District told NorthJersey.com that while she agrees recess is important, she does not believe it should be mandated for schools. There are additional concerns over the cost of mandating recess at a time when budgets are stretched thin for most districts. Some do not have the money to staff recess time or create recreational space that is currently lacking.
 
New Jersey has a “state mandate, state pay” law, which means the state would be responsible for providing sufficient funding if the recess mandate passes. However, no one knows for sure if this would involve additional money into district budgets or simply a reallocation of existing funds. At this point, the bill is still pending the state senate, so districts do not need to worry about how to pay for mandatory recess time just yet.

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