Arlington, VA

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

As recently reported in the Washington Post, under a new state law, local school districts in Virginia (including APS) have been granted added flexibility to increase recess time at the elementary level.

Local school boards now may devote up to 15 percent of state-mandated instructional time to recess under a law that took effect July 1.

What the new law provides

The new law allows up to 15 percent of the required 5.5 hours of daily instructional time to be used for recess (roughly 50 minutes). The new law also reduces the minimum instructional hours that must be spent teaching only English, math, science and social studies/history from roughly four hours and eight minutes per day to roughly three hours and 47 minutes per day.

These are newly-authorized changes to state-mandated minimums. But, before these changes can be implemented, each local school district (including APS) must take affirmative steps to incorporate the changes into its own policies. Each local school district (including APS) must decide how much of the newly-authorized time that district wishes to shift to recess.

Benefits of more elementary recess

A large body of educational research has documented the benefits of more recess time. Among the chief benefits are these:

  • Brain Development–Physically active children are better at paying attention, have faster cognitive processing, and perform better on standardized tests. Breaks allow children time to encode classroom learning into memory.
  • Social & Emotional Skills–The American Academy of Pediatrics has concluded that children learn negotiation, cooperation, and problem-solving skills at recess.
  • Executive Functions–During unstructured playtime at recess, children learn to plan their own activities, switch between tasks, and set their own goals. These skills increase success in school and even in adulthood.

Increases in elementary recess time already approved in other NOVA districts

Other Northern Virginia school districts already have announced plans to take advantage of the new Virginia state law, as the Washington Post reported:

Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties have opted to mandate at least 30 minutes of recess, which the law defines as “unstructured recreational time that is intended to develop teamwork, social skills, and overall physical fitness.” In Loudoun, kindergarten students must get at least 40 minutes. In some schools, the increased time will double students’ daily unstructured play.

APS response

On August 15, APS sent its first formal communication about the new law to elementary school parents. APS stated:

  • Many APS schools already provide at least 30 minutes of recess
  • APS policies will be updated to reflect the 30 minute per day recess minimum for elementary students

Conclusion

Our schools are all overcrowded. Almost all elementary schools have lost field space to trailers. APS parents are dealing with this reality.

APS can’t fix the overcrowding or the lack of open space overnight, but APS has appropriately recognized that it should take advantage of the new law now.

Yesterday’s APS announcement is a welcome step. However, as more and more academic pressure has been applied at younger and younger ages, APS should do still more given the critical importance of recess to young children’s development.

APS’ current recess policies (at pp. 5-6) do not contain any minimum daily recess requirement.

APS should revise these policies to mandate a daily minimum of:

  • 35 minutes of recess in grades 1-5 at every elementary school
  • 45 minutes of recess at every kindergarten
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