School's Out for Recess

Written By: Rachel Strong
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Recess used to be the best part of school; that and lunch. But today, a shocking two-thirds of public elementary schools do not have any recess at all!

Part of the problem, according to educators, is 2001's No Child Left Behind Act. Because schools are required to meet rising test score levels, schools that do not meet expectations are having to make sacrifices on "non-essential" activities such as art, music, P.E., and now recess in an attempt to raise not only funding but also class time for subjects such as reading, writing, arithmatic, history, and social studies.

Another problem school administrators around the country see leading to the removal of recess is the threat of lawsuits by parents. When we were growing up, during recess the athletic kids played their own games (tag, dodge ball, football, etc.), while the rest of us just hung around on the jungle gym, on the monkey bars, or just sat on the ground playing with bark chips talking. We were not required to participate in the semi-organized games (which were mostly just on-going, like the baseball game in the movie "The Sandlot"), nor were we required to sit out while the more athletic kids played their game. If we were excluded by the athletes, we just sat on the sidelines and watched, right?

However, a small minority of the parents who were excluded from certain games when they were in school (or singled out during a game of tag, or were picked last for football, or whatever) are making for #(%! sure that their kids are not going to go through the same "humiliation" they did.

Because of these sue-happy parents, in most states, in the schools that still have recess and P.E., tag and dodge ball have become taboo (even pick-up games at recess) because someone could fall and / or hurt themselves. Many team games are banned because someone will be picked last and their feelings will be hurt. (I was always picked last... and now I have a successful writing career. I wonder how many of those kids who were picked first because they could run faster are now professional athletes?)

An associated problem is that schools cannot afford to hire additional recess monitors, and teachers need a break just as much as students do.

In my elementary school, for the 300+ students on recess grounds at a time we had all of two recess monitors (whose only job was to monitor recesses and the halls during non-recess hours). No one died because we didn't have "adequate" supervision. No one was even seriously injured in my seven years (K - 6) at my Salem, Oregon elementary school.

Now that's not to say that no one gets hurt during P.E. or recess, but really, come on. How many kids on an average day are seriously injured (either physically or emotionally) because they were playing a game or picked last, or not at all, for a team? And after a kid does get hurt (and the ones most likely to get hurt playing a game are the athletic kids anyway), how long is it before he or she wants to get right back into the game, cast and all?

So where does this lack of P.E. and recess leave us? The lack of recess and P.E. (and any sort of exercise in general) is a large contributing factor to the obesity epidemic in our children. It leaves us with kids who have a lot of energy and no where to release it. As my seven-year-old cousin told my aunt recently, "They lock us in the room for seven and a half hours! We're not able to go anywhere! It's torture!"

Richard Simmons (whose "Sweatin' to the Oldies" videos were required viewing my own middle school P.E. classes and still haunt my nightmares) has now joined the fight to reinstate recess and P.E. On the home page of his website, http://www.richardsimmons.com, there is a survey available for parents, teachers and students.

Mr. Simmons is on a crusade to bring physical fitness back into the school system as a way to combat the childhood obesity epidemic. But Mr. Simmons also wants P.E. to change. Physical Education classes will no longer be "run a mile", but more calisthenics, aerobics, and weight training-classes kids want to take.

Mr. Simmons is compiling information on physical education and recess in schools throughout the country to take to Washington, D.C. to require a change in the No Child Left Behind Act to include P.E. and other active activities, such as recess, in the required courses. You can visit his website and fill out the survey (it takes about five to 10 minutes), and maybe we can start fighting obesity with the little things-getting our kids active.

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