photo credit: daystar297 via photopin cc

photo credit: daystar297 via photopin cc

We’re nearly two months into the new school year, and I’ve already seen several parents vent on Facebook about their children’s teachers taking away recess as punishment. To these parents and me, this form of punishment could not make less sense.

To punish one student (or worse, an entire class!) you take away their (often!) only small window of time (15 minutes at my son’s school) to move around and get their energy out? What?

This post is my plea to teachers — do not take away recess as punishment!

But don’t listen to my gut reaction that this form of punishment doesn’t make any sense.

Instead, listen to the experts.

Experts indicate that it is NOT a best practice to deny recess as punishment.

The Maryland Physical Education Demonstration School Program, run by Maryland Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (MAHPERD), Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) and the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition (PCPFSN),”recognizes exemplary physical education programs and teachers across the state and encourages visits to these sites by other physical educators. By doing this, innovative programs and good practices are shared and promoted statewide.” One best practice criteria in the MAHPERD Demonstration School application packet reads as follows: “The school provides activity/recess period in addition to physical education and physical activity is never imposed nor denied as a form of punishment.”

Let’s Move! is a comprehensive initiative, launched by the First Lady, dedicated to solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation, so that children born today will grow up healthier and able to pursue their dreams.” Let’s Move! also includes this as a best practice in their teacher toolkit:

“Establish classroom ‘rules’ and expectations around food and activity. Promote healthy food for celebrations. Do not make students do push‐ups or other activities as punishment and do not keep students from being active, such as keeping them in from recess, as punishment.”

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Framework for Best Practices, an evidence-based initiative, includes as a best practice that schools prohibit the withholding of recess as punishment and that the prohibition is consistently followed.

Physical activity makes kids smarter!

NPR reports that a recent study published in Pediatrics “shows 7- to 9-year-old children who run around and play like, well, children, for at least 70 minutes a day show improved thinking skills, particularly in multitasking, compared to children who aren’t as active.”

The 2014 CDC Health and Academic Achievement Report is 11 pages of the latest research linking physical activity to academic achievement, including this research-based conclusion:

“Time spent in recess has been shown to positively affect students’ cognitive performance (e.g., attention, concentration) and classroom behaviors (e.g., not misbehaving).”

Your School System may have certified to the Federal Government that recess is not used as punishment.

Not using recess as a punishment is a general requirement for the USDA Healthier School Challenge. Locally, Prince George’s County Public Schools participate in this federal program. Does your school district also participate? If yes, then you should know that the USDA Vision for Healthier Schools Challenge lists: “Reinforcing physical activity education messages by neither denying nor requiring physical activity as a means of punishment” as a general requirement for criteria for all award levels: Bronze, Silver and Gold and Gold Distinction.

In addition, the updated 2014 USDA Healthier Schools US Challenge again reinforced the general criteria of not denying physical activity as a means of punishment.

“Elementary School: For all award levels, physical activity opportunities are provided each day for all full-day students (e.g., scheduled recess, walking clubs, bike clubs, intramural sports, a walk-to-school program). Such opportunities for physical activity are not the same as physical education (see the Physical Education section of this chart for a definition of physical education)…. For all award levels, school reinforces physical activity/physical education messages by neither denying nor requiring physical activity as a means of punishment.”

And if you still aren’t convinced by the experts, then consider that taking away recess as punishment may very well be prohibited by your school district’s administrative procedure.

It is in Prince George’s County Public Schools! PGCPS Board of Education Administrative Procedure 0116: Wellness, Nutrition and Physical Activity states:

 “V. A. 5. The Area Assistant Superintendents in conjunction with each elementary principal will ensure that all elementary children will have multiple opportunities daily for physical activity lasting 15 minutes or more, in addition to a daily recess period, preferably before lunch.

V. G. 5. Use of Physical Education, Physical Activity, and/or Recess as a reward or punishment is prohibited.”

To any teachers reading this, I want to conclude by saying: I am not a teacher. I am in awe of — and am incredibly grateful to — you brave women and men who teach my children every day. I know it isn’t easy. And I know that discipline is necessary, but please don’t use recess as punishment.

To the parents reading this, I want to conclude by saying: I hope this is helpful to you if your child has recess taken away as punishment. But even more, I hope that you will use this to be proactive with your school. Bring this issue up before it becomes an issue. One way to do that is to help start — or join — your School Wellness committee.

Aimee is the mom of two very active boys. They all live in Prince George’s County, MD, where Aimee also manages the Facebook page Family Friendly Prince George’s.