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If Legislatures Are Guaranteed a Recess, Why Aren’t Our Children?

Why can’t lawmaker’s agree on legislation making recess mandatory in the school system?

Across the country, state and federal legislatures are taking a recess after a long session of lawmaking. The legislative recess is a temporary break from proceedings in which lawmakers can review legislation, attend meetings and hearings and visit their district. In other words, they need this time to improve their legislative performance, socialize with their constituents and to mentally rejuvenate. Isn’t this the same reason why our children need recess in schools?

Over a year ago, the legislature in my home state of New Jersey unanimously passed a bill that would have required daily recess for almost 2,000 elementary schools. However, Gov. Chris Christie vetoed it last January, leaving the choice to include recess up to individual schools or school districts. Nationally, most states do not mandate recess be a part of every child’s school day, even though US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research shows that health and academic success are linked to this vital 20 minutes a day.

Recess helps children stay healthy by increasing access to physical activity during the school day. Regular exercise and activity are crucial to stave off the onset of health issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes and other chronic illnesses.

In their independent research, Playworks, a national organization that promotes play among children, found that recess represents an opportunity for a playtime break, improved classroom performance and social and brain development. It’s also an underutilized opportunity to improve the overall learning environment in our schools.

Some argue that that it’s the school’s job — not the government’s — to establish time for physical activity and recess in schools. But in low-income, overcrowded schools, more time is allocated to teaching core subjects and recess falls by the wayside. In fact, nationally, more than one-third of low-income children go all day without it, according to the US Department of Education.

Physical activity also can have an impact on cognitive skills, concentration and attitudes, which are important components of improved behavior.

A case study by the Harvard Family Research Project revealed that a modest investment in recess can have a positive ripple effect with visible improvements in several key areas of childhood development. Teachers witnessed how a well-functioning recess could foster supportive relationships among students, create opportunities for meaningful youth involvement, and teach conflict resolution and other life skills.

Ensuring a healthy school environment must be a collaborative effort between communities, schools and government. We must collectively examine policies and implement evidence-based strategies to help children reach their full health potential. Parents and advocates can make a difference in our schools by asking if their local school offer recess; participating on the school health council; and confirming that the school has a district wellness policy. And policymakers in most states need to consider mandating recess in schools. While they understand the importance of their own legislative recess, they need to understand why it is importance to the next generation of leaders. If they get recess, why can’t our children?

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