Clearwater, Florida - Florida law requires elementary school kids to receive 150 minutes of physical education each week. But one Bay area mom says that's not enough.
Meg Rosker is a stay-at-home Reddington Beach mom and former school teacher. She says kids need 30 minutes of creative play each day, better known as recess.
"It's an opportunity for them to explore whatever comes to mind. Childhood is the only time we have to do that," says Rosker.
Belcher Elementary's principal agrees. She notices a change in her students after recess. "They're extremely motivated and focused to get to work," says principal Lisa Roth.
This year, Roth added recess to the curriculum. Students receive 10 to 20 minutes of "free play" before or after lunch. It's a time for kids can be creative and make up games, exercise and socialize. A group of 4th graders play a game of tag.
"The more you exercise, the brighter your brain gets," says Nikola, 4th grader.
"I talk to my friends and play," adds Avalon, 4th grader.
Recess can take place outdoors with an old fashioned game of Hopscotch or 4 Square. Students can take recess stay indoors. One 5th grade class calls it a "brain break."
"It calms me down, so I'm ready to get back to work," says Laura Stanley, 5th grader.
"We get active before lunch and do better in class," adds Camilo Suarez, 5th grader.
The recess time is taken from academics such as reading and math, but it's time teachers say they'd spend getting antsy kids settled anyway.
"I have teachers report kids get to work more rapidly," says Roth.
Like most Bay area school districts, Pinellas does not have a formal recess policy. Recess is part of its wellness guidelines; that means it's up to a school principal to determine if recess will be part of the students' school day.
Rosker has joined a national movement to make recess or Free Play part of every child's school day. She's launched a website letchildrenplay.com, named by her oldest son Eli. There's a petition attached asking the Pinellas school district to offer kids 30 minutes of recess a day.
Rosker adds, "They must have the 150 minutes of PE that cannot be taken away, but in addition they need to have time to choose what games to play, who to hand out with, what friends they want to play with."
Rosker took her 6-year-old son out of a Pinellas school after learning the school does not offer recess.
"Kids can only observe so much information when they're sitting down and learning. And second, kids this age, elementary, there's a lot of socialization, a lot of learning happens when they are playing," says Rosker.
She says there's a connection between bullying and kids who don't play this way. "They're not being properly socialized," Rosker explains.
Rosker suggests parents set aside a play area for kids. It could be the child's bedroom or as in her case, the sun porch.
"Don't freak out over the mess," says Rosker. "When you've got kids, the house is not pristine when they're little."
She also advises parents to let kids play the game the way they want to play it.
"That child can come up with an incredibly new way to play with that toy. My kids take pieces from board games and make soup all the time," says Rosker. "The trade-off for me is they're exploring. I can go on eBay and buy new pieces."
Belcher Elementary's principal says she's banking on the research that shows recess works. "It's a trade-off we're trying. We hope to see results academically, physically and socially," says Roth. "I haven't found a down side to it yet."
More Info: Recess policies for Citrus, Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, and Sarasota schools. (PDF)
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