Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Cutting Physical Education and Recess: Troubling Trends and How You Can Help

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By Erica Lue, Advocacy Coordinator, National PTA

Since the 2001 passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, many schools have struggled to find ways to meet the act's rigorous assessment standards. One avenue schools have been taking to find time for more academics is to cut out physical education classes and recess. Another approach has been to withhold time allotted for physical activity as a punishment for poor classroom behavior, or for extra tutoring time for struggling students. While estimates on cutbacks to school recess differ while accommodating a more vigorous academic curriculum, what is certain is that the trend is on the rise. With the troubling statistics regarding childhood obesity, health experts, educators, and parents are expressing concern that cutting recess will further contribute to weight and health problems without actually improving academic performance.

Recess, with its unstructured play time and the ability to allow students' choices in the activities they pursue, is a particularly troubling cut that many argue actually has detrimental effects on students.  In its resolution on recess, National PTA outlined the numerous benefits of recess and physical activity, including “greater academic achievement and cognitive functioning; better classroom behavior; increased socialization, school adjustment and overall social development; and improved physical and mental health.” In addition to these positive outcomes, establishing an active lifestyle in childhood leads children to be more active adults. Because of the benefits of physical activity and unstructured play time, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends that students get at least 20 minutes of recess time every day.

National PTA is not alone in our concern over the drift towards less physical education and recess in school. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported in 2007 that only 36% of children receive the recommended amount of physical activity and stress that recess time is one of the best opportunities to incorporate physical activity into a child’s day; the American Academy of Pediatrics asserts that "recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child's development;" and the National Wildlife Federation, in response to reports that children spend only minutes a day outside but as much as seven hours in front of a computer or television screen, has undertaken an initiative to get 10 million more American children outside.

Despite the alarming statistics on childhood obesity and the abundant benefits of recess, there are currently very few efforts at a national, state or district level promoting the adoption of policies supporting recess or physical education. This is disheartening because having a concrete policy on the books helps promote physical activity in schools and protects opportunities for physical activity. For example, the National Institutes of Health released a report which indicates that recess is more likely to be scheduled at schools in districts and states with a recess policy in place. PTA members – and all education advocates - are in an excellent position to “take action” towards correcting this deficiency by advocating for a number of policies supporting more physical activity for students in their states and districts. Some of these opportunities include the following:

  • Nationally: Contact your members of Congress regarding the Fitness Integrated with Teaching Kids Act (FIT Kids Act), a measure recently reintroduced in both chambers of Congress that National PTA supports. The bill would strengthen physical education throughout the country by providing grants to schools working to implement physical education programs, and would also require state educational agencies to monitor and report on the amount of time students spend being physically active during the school day.
  • State-wide: Actively encourage your state legislators to support recess policies and programs that boost walkable communities. Promoting walkability in communities gives families more options for active modes of transportation, rather than using vehicles, and ensures that students have safe ways to walk to school. Walking also promotes academic success: a study conducted by the University of Illinois showed that students who walked at a moderate pace for 20 minutes in the morning before school increased their ability to pay attention in class and performed better on tests.
  • Locally: Encourage your schools and districts to adopt sensible recess policies and to keep physical education as a part of their daily academic schedules at all levels.  PTAs can also advocate their local leaders to design communities safe for walking and biking, and can encourage parents, teachers, and community members to lead by their own healthy examples.

Recess and other physical activities should be viewed as an opportunity to enrich the whole student, and not as a barrier to academic success.

National PTA has partnered with several organizations to launch nationwide programs encouraging students and parents to be more active. Beginning this fall, the National PTA undertook an initiative with the NFL, called “Back to Sports,” that will encourage students to join sports teams and get active, and in February of this year National PTA announced a partnership with Safe Routes to School National Partnership and Kaiser Permanente called “Fire Up Your Feet.” The enterprise challenges students, teachers, and parents to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day while raising money for their schools, and is a recognized program of the Let’s Move! Active School initiative.

But working towards greater physical activity, while an important step, is only half of the battle in combating childhood obesity and increasing academic outcomes. Healthy food options for all students is also a necessity. Check the National PTA's website for more information about how to keep students healthy.

Tell us: Does your child’s school offer recess and physical education opportunities?

Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.

Our elementary school cut

Our elementary school cut recess this year for K-5th grade students because we must have 6 hours of instruction time, daily. PE counts in the 6 hours, but kids need time to just run and play with other kids. :-(

Cutting Recess is not okay!

Cutting Recess is not okay! My son has ADD and he needs that time outside to get his energy out and refocus. There have been multiple studies that show kids need MOVEMENT to help focus. Some schools have even proved that providing movement (i.e. having kids sit on excercise balls during class time) during instruction time, helps all kids ability to focus.

I agree. Cutting recess for

I agree. Cutting recess for special needs children especially does not give them an opportunity to bulid unstructured relationships w their peers. The children need an opportunity to play and work on social skills during these times set aside for recess. The children seem to be bogged down with so much stress of work with no play. How van we get the school board to see that all children will benefit from recess, non structured time? This helps them to develop strong bonds with thier peers. I think teachers too can agree, but many say that their hands are tied because they keep having more and more required tests. I am a personal trainer and I know the facts of how exercise and stress free activity can improve their grades and thinking. I believe that we need more parents and teachers to be on board w the concept of recess. I am not seeing the positive effects of them not having recess through their testing scores. Its a shame that the children are on work mode non stop. Even adults at work are required to have at the least 2 breaks. Why do our children not deserve it?

Our "pta" is under the fight

Our "pta" is under the fight of its life right now to keep K-1 recess. All eliminated due to poorly achieving NWEA test scores. Don't stop the fight! We must fight for our children.

i think all schools should

i think all schools should have recess from elementary-high school it can make it to were we can talk to friends and get new ones to so please give recess back to school!! XD DX

We are supposed to be looking

We are supposed to be looking out for our children and making sure they are learning what they should be learning from the school system! Remember these are OUR CHILDREN not theirs and they are WORKING FOR US THE PARENTS!! If WE do not think they are doing their job correctly then WE take our child out of that school and either decide to home school or put OUR children in another school. With common core the teachers are out for themselves and their pay with no worries about stressing our children out because they want their pay and job! Now they are talking about cutting recess from our children for this. The teachers are not worried if our children are even understanding things they just have to present it to them in school and that's it. My child struggles in school and so many times comes home angered because my child is not understanding and says they just barely show them 1 example and that's it! My younger child is learning with their teacher the things my oldest is working on and that stresses my oldest out because the younger one thinks they are a no it all (according to my oldest) so us parents deal with that also when our child comes home from school the stress from school. This is what we as parents are allowing them to do to OUR CHILDREN? It is sad to know that learning became more about someone's pay vs what children are actually understanding! Our school for example 1, sure they may have writing, but that focuses on writing about what they read and how to word it all that, they do not teach the children cursive writing and why? At least not our school but why? Because that is not a "common core standard"? Yet when our child gets older they are teased or bullied about being illiterate for not spelling correctly and not knowing cursive? My child still spells things like they hear them because that's what a 3rd grade teacher taught them, spelling was not a big focus to her as a teacher, yet 3 years later my child struggles and why? Also another one for example my child's teacher said they had so much to get through for the year that they are working on (in math) one different thing each day because as it is she said they did not even have enough days to get through everything they are supposed to get through before the end of the year, and I asked how they could do that because our children were not even understanding things but they are moving on..why? and that was the response she give me! So this is supposed to be learning? VERY VERY POOR EXSCUSE! A lot of parents do not understand all of what "COMMON CORE" is, because a small little flyer got sent home basically saying what their focus is on, but yet it did not say that its basically just for grading the school and or the teachers job and pay! that is it, it isn't to actually make sure our children are learning! SAD HUH! I guess it is a little different for those teachers who are actually teaching for the liking of it and not just for pay, in which you can tell which ones those are. Now if us as parents were to deny our children of going outside because they had work to do inside all day long for many days out of the year, then us as parents would be neglecting our children because hey, children are supposed to be outside communicating with other children and getting play time outdoors! So what makes it ok for the states to allow the schools to be doing this or even considering this? My personal opinion would be to look at all of the professional people that made it as far as they did when the schools used the "OLD STYLE" of teaching, and did not push our children like they do today! What needs to be done is the School systems needs to look at things side by side as to how many drop outs they had 20-30 years ago to now, and how many troubled kids there were back then to now! and I am probably quite sure everyone will be amazed to know that all of the troubled kids are stemming from the school and teachers now!

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