I’ve been writing this blog for a while. Months in fact. I start it, stop it, come back to it and pick it apart. It’s not that there is anything wrong with the topic, there’s lots of science behind what I want to talk about; papers and studies, psychology and physiology. So what’s my problem? What is this taboo subject that we discuss as a staff and with parents that is so hard to write and post?
It’s recess. Or more precisely, the LACK of recess in LifeFit Athletics immediate area. Many schools in Brockville, Ontario do not have recess. There is a 40 minute break at the lunch hour, but no other scheduled outdoor or free play time in the children’s day. I have to admit that as the mother of a grade 1 and 2 student, that this came as a shock to me. I began searching and comparing online schedules, thinking this was just another case of my darling’s ability to communicate. I was wrong.
Both the Upper Canada District School Board and the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario do not have regularly scheduled recess breaks in all local elementary schools. This is despite Canadian children receiving failing report cards from ParticipAction on overall physical activity and literacy.
It is well known that physical activity is needed to help children’s brains develop. There has even been what is called the Expert Statement on Physical Activity and Brain Heath in Children and Youth that States:
Improved cognition, enhanced self-esteem, reduced depression and anxiety are all linked to increased physical activity and outdoor play. So why is there so little of it? In fact, less than 35% of students under the age of 17 meet the daily physical movement goals. While study authors are careful to point out that you cannot be sure of a direct link (no one would purposefully eliminate a child’s activity to see if it made them depressed for example!) this is a striking correlation.
On the positive side, research has shown that after as little as a single bout of activity, brain processes associated with memory and focus are increased, which can lead to an increase in learning. A study in the United Kingdom on adolescents showed a linkage between physical activity and higher levels of academic achievement. Do not confuse this with level of sporting achievement, but just level of activity. A child does not need to be a hockey star to be active. Playing tag in the backyard has the same physical benefits as lacing up the skates for your heart and mind for a 15 minute cardiovascular burst.
So with all this research, why have I been so conflicted about writing this?
First, I DO have children in our school system, and I know that their teachers are doing the best they can in the system they have been handed. I have spoken to the principal at their school and seen how she is trying to make the best of the situation, with teachers introducing activity breaks into the days via dance and online videos. Strong educators are no happier about the situation than informed parents. There has been great support from principals for walking school buses and after school play programs – things that can complement and extend physical activity outside the walls of the school when they aren’t able to deliver it within the time allotted and I am grateful for their help and support. It doesn’t change the fact that my child struggles to sit still or go to bed on school days and sleeps like a rock on weekends and days off. I know, I know. One observation, of one mother, but one who makes a study of children and movement.
The second is that many parents are unaware that this IS happening. Most in my generation have memories of a morning and afternoon break where we would be allowed to run out onto the playground and run around. Even that has changed at many schools with the advent of “Hand’s Off” rules. Tag is unable to be played due to physical contact (I wish I was joking), sticks can’t be picked up and the never-ending game of soccer baseball doesn’t run anymore. While working recently to set-up after school programming across the region, I heard of a school that let’s children re-enter the school halfway through the lunch break as the kids are “too bored”. Initial boredom is the jumping off point for free play, but without the incentive, time and tools, our children are forgetting how to play, and in turn hurting their ability to learn.
So maybe tonight ask your son or daughter about their recess adventures and like I did that one time – probe a little deeper. How many times do you go outside a day? How often do you have gym class? Do you get up and move around in between classes? Is there “indoor recess” very often?
Note: While what I’m seeing planned by the school boards does not match the given research, becoming informed parents and seeking out resources to support our kids are the first steps we can take. And please, let’s all get outside and play.
Coach Laura Sivers