What’s happening to recess?


February 11, 2015 by realrenewal

Recess is on the retreat at some Regina Public and Catholic schools, couched as a way to achieve Lean-style time-saving and to better manage student behaviour. “Instead of the current 10:30-10:45 and 2:15-2:30 15 minute recess breaks, students will be provided with physical education and classroom breaks (such as brain-breaks) in a regulated setting,” explains a recent letter to Seven Stones Community School parents.

The letter states that in place of free play time, “Students will have positive interaction time with other students during the planned breaks with their classes and familiar supervisors/teachers, thus eliminating most peer to peer conflict time and the time away from instruction spent on daily problem solving and intervention.” This will bring Seven Stones in line with Kitchener and Albert schools, the letter notes.

Under the ‘Adjusted School Day,’ the morning recess becomes an additional 15 minutes of playground supervision before the start of school, while the afternoon recess is either moved into a shortened lunch period or placed at the end of the school day.

In the Catholic system, Holy Rosary, Sacred Heart, St. Augustine, St. Francis and St. Michael have already adopted adjusted hours.

In June 2013, school parent Therese Kenny wrote a letter to education director Rob Currie questioning plans for a shortened lunch break and the elimination of mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks.

The change was implemented after a survey in which parents and teachers were split, with teachers tending to favour a shorter classroom day without breaks, including a shorter lunch. Neither group favoured the changes in the majority, however, with 35.6 per cent of teachers and just 13.2 per cent of parents in support.

Kenny asked the board to consider expert research instead of a web survey, citing an American Academy of Pediatrics statement on the importance of recess, issued in response to a growing trend to replace free time with structured activities.

“Minimizing or eliminating recess may be counterproductive to academic achievement, as a growing body of evidence suggests that recess promotes not only physical health and social development but also cognitive performance,” the Academy stated (AAP, 2013). Kenny did not receive a response to her letter.

So far, the ‘adjusted day’ schools appear to all be community schools serving low income populations. This corresponds with a study published in the Journal of the American Society of Pediatrics, which found children without recess were significantly more likely to be Black or Hispanic, and to come from low income homes (Barros, Sliver & Stein, 2009).

The researchers partly attributed this trend to the pressure of the No Child Left Behind policy. Schools in socially and economically challenged neighbourhoods eliminated recreation time in their struggle to meet rigid new test standards and efficiency demands.

The rationale provided by Regina Public places the issue in the light of teachers being forced to spend too much time managing unruly students and guiding them in and out of the classroom during the school day. Replacing this with structured activities inside the classroom will keep student behaviour in check and enhance student safety, according to the letter parents received.

Because concepts cited in the letter—such as “student time-on-task” and 100 “reclaimed” minutes per week—seem reminiscent of lean efficiency models, it’s worth noting that the idea of short classroom ‘brain breaks’ instead of a period of unstructured play originated in Japan, the home of lean. The Barros, Silver and Stein study (2009) looked at this approach and did not find any advantage; instead, based on classroom behaviour ratings, their research suggested a single break of 15 minutes results in better group behaviour, although they cautioned the research is not conclusive.

Kenny also wrote to the Ministry of Education and received a response from then-deputy minister Dan Florizone. “I am confident that the success through the Lean initiative in Saskatchewan Health will be echoed in the education sector,” he replied, before stating only that the Ministry advocates 30 minutes of physical activity per day, with how that is achieved to be determined by school boards in consultation with the school community.

What do you think?

We’re interested in hearing feedback from parents, teachers and staff about the adjusted school day. Specifically:
• Have school divisions outside Regina adopted the adjusted day?
• Are there other schools in Regina that have adopted it?
• What have you experienced/observed?
• Have you heard of any schools in wealthier neighbourhoods eliminating recess?
• Are you interested in connecting with other parents on this issue?

Please reply to realrenewal@gmail.com

Teachers and staff are welcome to use our anonymous EduLeaks site

Documents links:

Seven Stones letter to parents

Albert School adjusted hours

Catholic School hours (see ‘adjusted elementary day schedule’)

“School Recess and Group Classroom Behavior.” Romina M. Barros, Ellen J. Silver and Ruth E. K. Stein Pediatrics 2009;123;431-436

“Policy Statement: The Crucial Role of Recess in School.” American Academy of Pediatrics. 2013.

“The Recess Debate.” Anthony D. Pellegrini. The American Journal of Play, Fall 2008, 181-191.

“Rethinking (Instead of Eliminating) Recess at Low Income Schools.” Esther Entin. The Atlantic, May 3, 2012.

The School With No Rules. Nelson Groom, Daily Mail Australia, Oct. 21, 2014

How Finland Keeps Students Focused Through Free Play. Tim Walker, The Atlantic, June 30, 2014.

International Play Association Canada


2 thoughts on “What’s happening to recess?

  1. Nick says:


  2. Michelle says:

    I am a substitute teacher and recently worked at two schools that have adopted the shorter day schedule and one that will go to the new schedule in September and the reasoning that was given to me was that it helps eliminate the many transitions throughout the day that students find hard and often result in a lot of fighting and time spent in the office. At first I was a bit surprised that there was no recess but I have also been in many many classes over the past 10 years that I have been teaching, and I would agree that most problems in schools occur around recess. Quick transitions like recess in winter can be especially difficult; little ones just finally get their winter things on and out the door and the bell rings and they have to come in and take it all off. Then they refuse to come in because they didn’t really get to play and this results in crying and the teacher having spend teaching time transitioning the student back into the classroom. t think teachers across the city are doing some really creative things in their classes that are still getting kids moving. I used Brain Gym in my Math class often and exercise routines such as Super Brain Yoga to warm up for Math.

    Another thing I have noticed in the past few years is that the school board is allocating more funds towards hiring a physical education specialist for the whole school which results in students getting really interesting physical movement that is for everyone rather than the same old gym games that only some students participate in. Today I saw students snow shoeing around the school yard for example. Schools are buying really awesome gym equipment that is creative and encourages co-operative game play and dance. I taught several phys-ed classes in the 5 day cycle for 3 months at a community school recently and found that the programming provided to teachers is fantastic! So my point is that even though some schools with a high incidence for violence and transitioning issues are moving to an alternative schedule without an official recess, students are still getting outside. In fact today I went on a great field trip to Boggy Creek with the Outdoor Ed specialist from the board office and groups of students from around the city. This school (on the alternative schedule) also offers a free extra physical movement after school program.

    Thanks for listening.

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