Sometimes we forget the role that recess plays in developing young minds and bodies. Schools are busy places, and teachers are busy people, so it's not surprising that recess is often the first thing to get cut or taken away as a form of punishment. In order to offer sensory-rich recess opportunities, schools will first need to understand the powerful influence outdoor play has on children's ability to attend, regulate their emotions, and learn in the classroom setting.
Going to the superintendent with your new knowledge about how longer recess sessions and richer play experiences will foster healthy sensory and motor development, will be the first step to creating change. Below is a sample letter to get the conversation started. In the next week, we'll be posting a more thorough document, "The Case For Recess," that will address the specific changes that need to be made to create a recess environment that challenges both the mind and the body.
Letter to Superintendents
My name is _______________________. I am the parent of __________________, and my child attends ______________________ school. I am writing to express my concerns about the current recess policies. With recess being only ________ minutes long, and with so many restrictions on what children can do (they’re unable to pick up sticks, go upside down on the monkey bars, or play tag), I’m concerned about the quality of the children’s movement opportunities.
Recess sessions that only last ______________ minutes do not provide enough time for children to fully move their bodies as nature intended. Children thrive when they use their bodies in ways that challenge their gross and fine motor skills—their abilities to hold and lift things, to balance and run, and to orient themselves in space—and allow them to bring their heightened activity levels back to baseline. Play has tremendous benefits in this, and children need at least forty-five minutes of unrestricted active play to achieve these benefits and prepare for learning.
Short recess sessions also limit children’s opportunity to use their imagination and engage in complex social interactions with peers. I keep hearing from children that by the time they figure out who they are going to play with and what they are going to do, recess time has ended. They need more time to practice socially interacting with each other—a skill that is hard to role-play and teach inside the classroom, and something that is needed more and more in this time of increased electronics usage.
Finally, children could really benefit from more opportunities to challenge their bodies and their imaginations. This can be done through simple reorganization of the recess environment to inspire creativity and natural risk-taking opportunities like climbing, balancing, and walking over uneven terrain. Also, offering a few inexpensive loose parts (planks, tires, baskets, sticks) for children to build and create things will help encourage creative play schemes. It just takes some time and thought. I would be willing to help my child’s school and others get started on creating an environment that truly fosters healthy child development.
It is my belief that with a few simple changes to recess, we will see drastic changes in children’s safety awareness (balance, coordination, ability to navigate surroundings with ease and competence) and better behaviors (improved attention, motivation, emotional regulation) in the classroom. Thank you for your attention to this important issue. Please contact me to let me know that you have received my letter and to inform me of the actions you plan to take. I can’t wait to share my knowledge with your team to greatly benefit our schools.