Florida Considers Making School Recess Mandatory

Volunteers build a multi-generational playground at the Las Casas Housing Development in Coachella, Calif, on Saturday, December 1, 2012. More than 200 volunteers joined The Humana Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Humana, Inc., one of the nation’s leading health care companies; KaBOOM!, a national non-profit dedicated to saving play; the Family YMCA of the Desert, the largest provider of licensed childcare in the Coachella Valley; and the Coachella Valley Housing Coalition, an award-winning non-profit housing development corporation, to build a new multi-generational playground in just six hours. The playground build is one of many wellness-focused activities taking place leading up to the 2013 Humana Challenge golf tournament to be held Jan. 14-20, 2013, in La Quinta, Calif. The build is a direct result of the collective efforts of thousands of people who wore Humana pedometers and logged their steps during the 2012 Humana Challenge Walkit program. Every step counted toward the donation made by the Humana Foundation.

I don’t want to blow your mind, but it turns out that kids need to play.

Young people are being diagnosed with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) at ever-increasing rates, with the percentage of kids being diagnosed growing by around 50 percent from 2003-2011. While some of this can be attributed to different diagnostic criteria and higher awareness, some almost certainly has to do with the environment in which kids are asked to succeed.

Kids as young as kindergarten are being asked to sit still for up to half an hour at a time, an unreasonable amount of time for a young child. Recess is becoming shorter so, even when kids aren’t seated, they aren’t outside being wild. Being kids.

Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist, shares her observations:

“I recently observed a fifth grade classroom as a favor to a teacher. I quietly went in and took a seat towards the back of the classroom. The teacher was reading a book to the children and it was towards the end of the day. I’ve never seen anything like it. Kids were tilting back their chairs back at extreme angles, others were rocking their bodies back and forth, a few were chewing on the ends of their pencils, and one child was hitting a water bottle against her forehead in a rhythmic pattern.”

They found that these students lacked core strength and balance, and are then asked to sit still nearly all day.

Florida is considering using legislation to tackle the problem. Senate Bill 78 would ask school boards to provide 100 minutes of “unstructured, free-play” recess a week (20 consecutive minutes Monday through Friday) for elementary students, in addition to physical education classes which are already required. Currently, recess is left to the local level, sometimes varying school by school depending on the principal.

If approved, the new rules would being with the 2017-18 school year.