by Genevieve Demos Kelley
Some elementary school students in Prince George’s County have as little as 15 minutes of recess per day. PGCPS policy states that recess for students in kindergarten through fifth grade should be “no less than 15 minutes per day and for no more than 30 minutes per day.” (Middle school and high school students do not have recess.)
In a 2013 policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics has written about the “crucial role” of recess as an “essential, planned respite from rigorous cognitive tasks.”
The AAP does not recommend a specific number of minutes for daily recess. However, its recess policy statement notes that across the nation, “the length specified for recess ranges widely, from 20 to 60 minutes per day,” suggesting that a 15 minute recess is outside the norm.
Recess Policies of Nearby Districts
How does PGCPS’s recess policy for elementary schools compare with policies in nearby districts?
- Montgomery County requires that recess for elementary school students be between 20 and 30 minutes.
- Howard County elementary schools schedule a 30 minute recess into the school day.
- Anne Arundel County Public Schools cites on its website the recommendation of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) that recess be at least 20 minutes per day. (Read the full NASPE statement here.)
- Fairfax County elementary schools recently increased their scheduled recess to 20 minutes per day, after the recent move to a full-day schedule on Mondays.
- DC Public Schools allow for a minimum of 20 minutes of recess per day in elementary school.
Parent Backlash Against Shorter Recess in DC
According to an August 2013 Washington Post article, DC Public Schools had cut recess time in elementary schools to 15 minutes a day earlier in 2013, prompting a backlash from parents. In response, officials raised the minimum recess length to 20 minutes. Some parents, not satisfied with a 20 minute recess, have continued to push for more unstructured play for their children.
It will be interesting to watch whether parents of Prince George’s county push back against current policy.
Prince George’s County’s school day for elementary students (usually just over 6 hours long) is among the shortest in the area: Montgomery County’s length of school day for elementary schools is 6 hours and 15 minutes long; Howard County’s is 6 hours and 30 minutes; DC’s is 6 hours and 30 minutes. In the 2015-2016 school year, the school day in Fairfax County elementary schools will be 6 hours and 45 minutes long, an increase of 5 minutes over the current academic year’s allotted time.
Given the relatively short school day in Prince George’s County and the pressures of testing and accountability, it is possible that principals feel they must shorten recess to the 15-minute minimum so that students may spend more time in academic instruction. Again, from the American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement:
A growing trend toward reallocating time in school to accentuate the more academic subjects has put this important facet of a child’s school day at risk. Recess serves as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom. But equally important is the fact that safe and well-supervised recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits that may not be fully appreciated when a decision is made to diminish it.
Academic pressures notwithstanding, parents should not hesitate to voice their concerns about the county policy. With enough pushback from parents, perhaps Prince George’s County will follow DCPS’s lead and increase the minimum recess length to a modest 20 minutes. Those additional five minutes would represent a 33% increase over the current minimum length. Five minutes might make an important difference for our children.