News Column

Idle Children Need Exercise

Jan. 3, 2012

Misti Crane

Children

If childhood memories of pushing your best friend on the swings, sharing secrets and playing Red Rover are strong, there's good reason.

Recess is a vital part of child development and shouldn't be stripped from the school day, says the nation's leading pediatricians group.

The American Academy of Pediatrics stresses that recess breaks provide a break for the mind and an opportunity for social, emotional and physical development. The new policy appears in this week's issue of the journal Pediatrics.

The goal is to draw the attention of administrators, teachers and parents and remind them that recess is more than just kids goofing off, that it shouldn't be seen as disposable.

"The child is allowed to decompress and hopefully creatively express what they want to do," said Dr. Robert Murray, who is a professor of human nutrition at Ohio State University and a lead author of the policy statement.

"These are children, and they need to have those little pockets of child time to explore relationships, scream and be wild," he said.

The academy says recess shouldn't be withheld as a punishment, nor should physical education be seen as a substitute.

Adults naturally take breaks and are usually free to do so, Murray said. "Unfortunately for a child, they're not allowed to just stand up and go get a cup of milk or something. They have to stay there until someone lets them go."

Ginny Ehrlich, the CEO of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, commended the pediatricians group and said she hopes the statement will make Americans more aware of the importance of recess. Her nonprofit organization was founded by the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation and works with schools to encourage better health for the nation's children.

"Parents often assume that P.E. is happening, recess is happening, health education is happening," Ehrlich said. "That might not be the case."

Recess helps kids regain their focus and ultimately learn better, she said.

It also is vital for social development, said Dr. Ihouma Eneli, the medical director of Nationwide Children's Hospital's Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition.

"Recess gives them the opportunity to decide, 'Am I going to do soccer, am I going to do hopscotch? Who am I going to talk to?'" she said. "It also builds things like resilience, like perseverance, like tolerance."

About 79 percent of U.S. elementary schools provided daily recess in 2006, according to the most-recent numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That was up from about 71 percent six years earlier.

Ohio law calls for at least five hours in a school day for grades one through six. That may include 15 minutes of recess in the morning and afternoon, but breaks aren't required.

Recess tends to be least common at schools that serve poor, urban kids, Murray said. "They have the least amount of recess, and they're probably the ones from a stress perspective who need it the most."

Some schools have taken away unstructured recess out of concern about safety, he said. Good supervision is a backbone of a high-quality recess, he said.

There's no official list of recess policies in Ohio, but most elementary schools give kids breaks, said Thom-as Ash, the director of governmental relations for the Buckeye Association of School Administrators.

"We went through a period about 10 years ago where districts were trying to squeeze all the instructional time out of a day that they could," he said, "but we've seen more focus on looking at the child holistically."

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Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: (c) 2012 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)


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