Good evening. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak about an issue that has been the topic of countless playground conversations, PTA meetings, and gripe sessions among the parents in my community: the length of recess for elementary school students. According to PGCPS policy, elementary students may have as little as 15 minutes of recess per day. Among my circle of friends, this is a favorite complaint. One of my friends has even decided to start home-schooling her son, in part because he was not getting enough unstructured time in his kindergarten year.
But we are not just a bunch of opinionated parents; respected organizations seem to agree on the importance of recess. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends a minimum of 20 minutes of recess a day. And in 2013, the American Academy of Pediatrics wrote about the “crucial role of recess as an essential planned respite from rigorous cognitive tasks.” The AAP notes that across the nation, recess length ranges from 20 to 60 minutes per day, suggesting that a 15 minute recess is outside the norm.
So, how does PGCPS’s recess policy compare with policies of nearby districts? In Montgomery County daily recess is between 20 and 30 minutes. In Howard County it’s 30 minutes. In Fairfax County it’s 20 minutes. In D.C. Public Schools, there is a minimum of a 20 minute recess.
The good news is that elementary kids, at least at my [son’s] school, do get plenty of physical education — significantly more than in Montgomery County, for instance. But P.E. and recess are not interchangeable. A structured class is not a substitue for the unstructured social interactions and physical activity that only recess can provide.
Complicating the issue of recess length is the limited time elementary school students have in school to begin with. Prince George’s County’s six-hour school day for elementary students is among the shortest in the region — significantly shorter than Montgomery’s, Howard’s, Fairfax’s, and DC’s.
Given the relatively short day in Prince George’s County and the pressures of testing and accountability, it’s possible that principals feel that they must shorten recess to the 15-minute minimum, so that students may spend more time in academic instruction. The American Academy of Pediatrics addresses this very issue:
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.
I am asking for PG County to follow the lead of other school districts in the area and require that elementary school students have at least 20 minutes of recess daily. If the school day needs to be lengthened by a commensurate five minutes in order to accomplish this, then surely we can find a way to make that work. This modest increase of five minutes would represent a 33% increase over the current minimum recess length of 15 minutes. And those five minutes might make a big difference for our kids.
Watch Kelley’s comment in the video below.