PLAY. This topic has been bouncing around in my head since well before I started this blog. I’ve just been trying to find the words to summarize what this seemingly innocent and simple word has meant to me in the past year or so. Today – July 1, 2017 – the Recess Mandate becomes law in the state of Florida. (20min/day unstructured free-play recess in addition to 150min/week structured physical education for Florida’s K-5 kids in traditional public schools.) It seemed like a good day to reflect back on how and why this issue became very personal for me.
I have been a “Recess Mom” in Florida since January 2016, the co-founder of Pinellas Parents for Healthy Schools since October 2015, PTA Wellness Chair since 2012, Personal Trainer/Fitness Instructor since 2006, and coach of multiple sports and teams at all levels for 15+ years. I would like to say that I know a bit about health, wellness & fitness. Yes, some knowledge is from books; but most is from my daily interaction with a wide variety of people & organizations. I whole heartedly believe that the best way to ensure a healthy and thriving population is through a collaboration between home, school & community. Just as learning to read, write and do math does not just happen in the classroom – learning healthy behaviors and actions does not solely happen at home. Health is such a broad topic – mental health, sexual health, safety, nutrition, physical activity, dental health, etc… for the sake of this conversation, let’s stick with physical activity.
Our children in Pinellas County, Florida are *blessed* with the shortest school day in Florida, just six hours. This is due to a variety of factors that I won’t get into here, but it is what it is for right now. Some say that these six hours should be dedicated to learning: test prep, computer time, sample standardized tests, LONG uninterrupted reading blocks (think 90 minutes straight for 6 year olds)… Of course we ALL want our children to learn and thrive in school – but when their physical, emotional, social and even cognitive development is compromised due to lack of a break in the day and minimal movement opportunities, something needs to be done. Parents needed to step up, come together and fight the higher powers. And that’s just what happened. There was not just one source to place blame – teachers said their principals wouldn’t allow recess, principals said the administrators didn’t agree with it, administrators said their hands were tied due to state requirements in other subject areas. Basically passing the buck. Little did they all know that we would fact check what the actual state requirements were, what the mandates were, and who was in charge of what. Nothing was PROHIBITING recess, but nothing at the state or local level was encouraging it either.
So, a bunch of “Recess Moms” who found each other through local television coverage and social media outlets started talking to each other, making plans and headed up to Tallahassee without big time lobbyists or a Super PAC. The main thing that we accomplished was raising awareness that lack of RECESS is even an problem. Many legislators we talked to brushed it off as a non-issue. They would ask, “But your kids have recess, right?”… um, no! My then-fifth grade daughter had not played at recess since she was in Kindergarten! She’ll now be a seventh grader next school year… so the ship has sailed for her, but not for my nine year old and three year old daughters and for millions of children across the state. Awareness that children need to move daily, need a break in their day, and that these things are vital to the growth & development of our children. What good are high test scores, if our children do not have the social & interpersonal skills to communicate with their peers or are overweight because of a lack of daily movement? These daily habits that we help establish in our children when they are young are what they will repeat and continue throughout their lives. I want my children to know something other than taking tests, practicing to take tests, and celebrating after taking tests.
Lack of recess and lack of PLAY has always been a trickle down effect of over-testing.
Administrators are hyper focused on numbers and statistics to keep track of how students and schools are succeeding. But, when you fail to actually see each student through the numbers – you don’t see the psychological and health detriments to our children. Our school was very lucky to have a supportive principal during the first year that recess was brought to the state legislation. She wanted to try recess after the testing cycle that year, saw the benefits and was an avid supporter of it the following school year. She wouldn’t take no from a teacher who didn’t want to “have to” take the kids out to recess. Our school actually had INCREASES in our test scores and DECREASES in our BMI (body mass index) numbers in just one year. It’s true – there are actual hard facts and research that support the benefits of recess, and plenty of anecdotal evidence as well.
I am proud to be a Play Ambassador with US Play Coalition – a partnership to promote the value of play throughout life. They are an international network of individuals and organizations that recognize play as a valuable and necessary part of a healthy and productive life. I am honored to work alongside other parents, educators, scientists, and researchers to ensure that our children and the entire next generation will not get lost in the shuffle – we need to get back to basics. Let’s Play!!
Footnote… I would remiss if I did not mention HOW the recess mandate actually became law this year. Unfortunately our legislative system (ahem, certain key legislators in leadership) chose to mash all K-12 education reform as well as the budget together in one massive bill, HB7069. In total, there were ideas from at least 55 bills squished into one final vote in the very last hours of the session. Basically legislators were forced to vote YEA or NEA on everything education related including a huge increase in funding to charter schools. There was a large backlash from educators, administers and parents who were not supportive of the charter school elements of the bill (including me). But now that the bill has passed, we do have to at least celebrate that our efforts were not in vain and thanks to the thousands of parents and community members from across state for calling and emailing – our children will have recess in the 2017-2018 school year.