More Recess for Norfolk Public Schools

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Recess, or free-unstructured play, is an essential part of childhood development and learning and, for the betterment of our students, should be increased in Norfolk Public Schools.

Recess not only allows children to be creative thinkers and learn through play, but it also boosts cognitive development and decision-making skills. While a major factor in recess should be the option for movement, it should be differentiated from PE. The latter is structured and recess gets its value from being unstructured, allowing children to create and choose their own ways to play and move. Recess is also crucial for a child's social/emotional development, helping kids cope with stress, solve problems, cooperate with others and grow in self-control. While some may believe that it detracts from academic performance by taking away instructional time, there is abundant research to the contrary. Recess only adds to the learning experience and children who have more recess also have improved test scores, exhibit less behavior problems, are more attentive in class and are less likely to experience elevated levels of stress and anxiety. Recess is supported by the CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics, the VDEA, the VPTA and the Governor of Virginia, yet it is not a priority in our schools. 

In Norfolk, elementary students have 20 minutes for recess, which is the minimum requirement. Often this period is at the end of the day, even for the younger primary grades. According to NPS parents, recess is frequently taken away as a punishment for misbehavior, despite NPS policy guidelines. Sometimes, recess time is used to complete homework or make-up work. Because elementary students in Norfolk only have PE two times per week, there will be days (e.g. when it's raining) when a child gets very little movement or unstructured play time. This lack of unstructured play is unhealthy for young children's development. Recess is critically important in education and we are doing our children a disservice when we minimize it. 


We propose 5 goals to improve our students' learning experience:

1. 20/20 by 2020. For the 2019/2020 school year, add a morning recess period of 20 minutes and keep the afternoon recess of 20 minutes for a total of 40 minutes daily for the primary grades, as allowed under HB1419/SB273 (VA legislation permitting schools to utilize up to 50 minutes per day for recess).

2. No withholding recess. NPS will ensure that teachers and administrators are following the policy that states "recess should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons".

3. Recess is not PE. Recess will be recognized as something distinct from PE and the two will be kept separate. 

4. Indoor Recess Plan. NPS will clarify indoor recess guidelines and ensure that indoor recess allows options for movement and imaginative and social play that is free from direct instruction.

5. Keep the Arts. Recess will not take away from art, music or library education.