Principals at some D.C. elementary schools cut recess time this year to 15 minutes per day to meet new citywide scheduling mandates, prompting protest from parents who argued that children need more exercise to be healthy and focused in class.
The backlash this week spurred school system officials to issue guidance for schools, raising the minimum to 20 minutes and emphasizing that principals may add more time if they wish. But parents said 20 minutes is still too little, given the time it takes kids to travel to and from the playground.
“They’re kids, they need time to recharge their batteries and get their wiggles out,” said Becky Levin, a parent of a 6-year-old at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan. “This just doesn’t really seem to make a sense on any level.”
Around the country, recess has become one flash point in a debate about whether schools — under pressure to demonstrate gains on math and reading tests in the era of the No Child Left Behind law — are siphoning too much time away from art, civics education, play and other important pursuits.
Recess advocates point to research showing that physical activity can have a positive impact on student achievement and emotional well-being, and is a key to addressing the childhood obesity epidemic.
Approaches to recess vary across the Washington region. Montgomery County schools do not have a minimum requirement, but elementary schools tend to offer a half-hour recess, officials said. Loudoun County expects to schools to offer 15 minutes daily.
Fairfax County also has no policy but recommends 20 minutes per day. And Arlington County schools require between 100 and 125 minutes per week — or between 20 and 25 minutes per day — for children in grades one through five. Kindergartners’ recess is a few minutes longer.
Recess time has varied within the District. Some schools saw a reduction this year as Chancellor Kaya Henderson implemented new requirements meant to ensure that all elementary students get a minimum amount of time in each subject each day: two hours of literacy, 90 minutes of math and 45 minutes of science or social studies. An additional 45 minutes is required for an elective, such as art, music or physical education.