BY: Coordinated School Health Team, Department for Public Health & Department of Education

African girl play crawling through tube in parkSince the enactment of No Child Left Behind in 2002, there has been increasing pressure on the public education system to perform on academic testing. With emphasis being placed on test scores, schools have struggled to justify time spent on physical activity and recess. Some Kentucky schools were reportedly forgoing recess to get “more teaching” into the school day.

“No Child Left Behind resulted in a lot of students left on their behinds,” admits Jamie Sparks, School Health and Physical Education Network Director.

In response, the Kentucky General Assembly modified the statutes in 2005 to allow for schools to count physical activity as part of the instructional day – but the law does not require schools to mandate recess time, and allows for districts to loosely interpret the intention and requirement of physical activity minutes as they relate to recess, physical education (PE), classroom study, and classroom breaks.

Ten years later, the Office of Education Accountability examined K-5 Recess and Physical Activity in Kentucky and found that in order for schools to fully promote active, healthy lifestyles for children throughout the day, there needed to be a clearer understanding of exactly how recess could contribute to the classroom schedule. Because districts needed more guidance, the Kentucky Department of Education recently released formal recommendations that help schools utilize recess in a way that enhances children’s daily learning experience:

1. Recess can be treated as instructional time.
Recess activities allow students the opportunity to practice life skills such as cooperation, rule following, sharing, communicating, problem-solving and conflict resolution. When counted as instructional time, student learning objectives for recess activities should be outlined in lesson plans and align with the Kentucky Academic Standards (Practical Living).

2. Recess can be scheduled outside of the school calendar/instructional time.
Recess, either counted as instructional time or not, is an opportunity to allow students to practice and demonstrate those acquired physical literacy skills. It is up to the discretion of the district or school wellness policy to determine practices on denial of any non-instructional time recess.

3. Recess is not a reward.
Recess is a necessary educational component for all children. When counted as instructional time, recess cannot be withheld or taken away as a form of punishment.

4. Recess does not replace PE class.
Recess provides unique opportunities for a child’s physical, social and academic development different than the sequential instruction of PE class, designed to enhance the development of motor skills, movement, concepts, and physical fitness. Recess, either counted as instructional time or not, does not replace PE classes or compete with the permitted 30 minutes/day of physical activity.

For more information on the benefits of recess or suggestions for integrating physical activity into the school day, check out these supporting documents, research, and position papers:
How Can Schools Restore Recess?
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