Stanfield Elementary School Principal Chris Lineberry has been a big fan of recess since he had a health scare in 2007. “I left my school on a stretcher after that heart attack,” he says. “I was 36.”
At Stanfield, a Title I school near Casa Grande, Lineberry has mandated better nutrition in the cafeteria, more P.E. time and daily recess for every student. Lineberry also co-authored the book, “Recess Was My Favorite Subject…Where Did It Go?”
Before the Arizona legislature passed a law in 2018 mandating two recess periods per day for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, some schools had limited recess time to 20 minutes or less; others had eliminated it entirely. Here’s why Lineberry says that’s wrong.
“What I can tell you is I have happier, healthier kids; our absenteeism has decreased; behavior issues have decreased and academic performance has improved,” he says. We asked Lineberry what parents should know.
Q: Why is recess important, and what questions should parents ask about recess when choosing a school for their child?
A: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, in a statement released this summer, recess and physical education are as important to the healthy development of a child as reading and math. There are multiple reasons … from enhancing cognitive function to helping to address physical inactivity that has led researchers to determine that this may be the first generation of children in over 100 years with a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
This is a direct result of obesity and obesity-related illness. (In fact, a disturbing recent trend in obesity rates demonstrates that the age group with the highest gain in obesity is children ages 2-5!)
We cannot educate children in the silo of academic work; we must educate children by addressing their physical, emotional and academic needs. One in three children born after the year 2000 will be pre-diabetic by the age of 18. Type II diabetes is directly related to obesity and physical activity and has demonstrated a decrease of potentially 17-27 years of lifespan. Movement enhances learning, and — in my experience as an educator for nearly a quarter of a century — is essential to the well-rounded development of children.
When it comes to questions to ask, I would say to ask the same question that I pose to the teachers and the administration at my children’s school: Do you take away recess as a form of punishment? The decision to use recess as a form of punishment is more a comment on the pressure that educators feel to achieve high test scores. In actuality, the research demonstrates that the opposite is true. This is a practice that is a deal breaker for me.
As a principal, I have told my teachers that if they take away recess, not only would that be insubordination, but I would then take away math or reading instruction and have the kids go outside to play. In fact, the Arizona Department of Education has a policy against withholding recess as a form of punishment.
I would also ask how long my children have to play outside, and when that is happening. In my school, we do 15 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes at lunch and 15 minutes in the afternoon. I let my teachers use their professional judgment to determine when the break should occur. If kids look flat and tired, get them up and take them outside. If you are engaged in a robust discussion, don’t interrupt for recess; go out when you finish. I have found that teachers appreciate this flexibility and respect of professional autonomy.