Hard realities for Mississippi, like top national rankings in obesity and poverty and bottom rankings in education, often keep our lovely hospitality state in a negative light.
In a recent study by the College of Health at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), approximately 95 percent of Mississippians surveyed believe obesity is a serious problem for the state and would support a law requiring at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity in schools. Plus, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) reported that active children on nutritious diets perform better in school.
So with these statistics, why are many schools leaning toward a “no recess” policy?
One reason has been to concentrate solely on academics. Another has been to avoid lawsuits arising over playground injuries and other safety issues. Most disciplinary problems like bullying and heated arguments happen during play time, but then carry over into the classroom and end up in the principal’s office.
Still, will sacrificing recess solve these problems? Not hardly.
Studies reveal that children are more attentive after recess and that cutting recess and confining students to the classroom leads to increased fidgeting, restlessness, and the inability to concentrate, according to Dr. Tony Pellegrini, professor of child development at the University of Georgia.
Dixie Tibbetts, a gifted education teacher at Oakland Heights Elementary and Carver Middle School in Meridian, Miss. said that during playtime life skills and intellect are applied, adapted, and understood.
“Children are free to create and imitate social situations,” said first grade teacher Elise Dickerson. By observing play and listening to children’s conversations, recess becomes a good opportunity for teachers to address personal and social conflicts in the classroom.
Teacher Brandi Smith added that during recess students use imaginations while also exercising.
Playworks is a national nonprofit organization that supports learning by providing safe, healthy and inclusive play and physical activity to schools at recess. It currently serves approximately 3,100 students in the Jackson Public School District, which include Bradley, Brown, Galloway, Johnson, Oak Forest, Smith and Wilkins public schools.
“Many children haven’t learned basic communication and social skills or game etiquette which requires teamwork and collaboration,” said Christy Wilson, communication director for Playworks’ national team. “If something goes awry on the playground, children may lack the tools to resolve an argument over a game. Therefore, the conflict ends up in the classroom where the teacher must focus on the two kids still arguing while the other students wait. That is lost learning time for the students and teaching time for the teacher,” said Wilson.
Schools are under increasing pressure to improve test scores and achievement. With limited teaching minutes in a school day, recess is often cut. According to a Gallup poll survey, one in five principals reported cutting recess minutes to meet testing requirements. However, according to the Jackson area Playworks executive director Ashley Nichols, the majority of parents and teachers support recess and consider it a necessary part of the school day.
Participating schools in the Playworks program are provided with a trained adult who acts as program coordinator, said Nichols. “Each coordinator works full-time at the school and becomes a member of the school community.”
Last year, Playworks surveyed nearly 2,600 principals and teachers at their partner schools nationwide. The report revealed that schools using the Playworks program reclaimed a national average of 24 hours of teaching time formerly lost to resolving recess conflicts.
Additionally, Playworks, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Association of Elementary School Principals sponsored a Gallup poll for 2,000 principals nationwide.
Key findings from the poll were:
“While Playworks targets urban, low income areas, any community can utilize the Playworks model,” said Wilson. “Playworks will train schools and districts to do what they do: teach kids how to play.”
“Using techniques like ‘rock, paper, scissors,’ solves disagreements over issues like whether or not a ball is in or out. Instead of stopping the game to argue for 5 minutes, the issue gets resolved in 3 seconds. Students don’t question that paper covers rock or scissors cut paper. Everyone gets back into the game,” Wilson added.
With organized play, school nurses don’t hand out as many Band-Aids and with fewer conflicts, principals bond with students through play instead of discipline.
“If kids feel safer, they’re more likely to come to school,” said Wilson. “We can’t underestimate those things.”