Austin ISD considering 30 minutes of daily recess for every child

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — A dose of recess is something most children used to get on a daily basis, but times have changed.

KXAN News has learned not every campus in the Austin Independent School District is created equal when it comes to the amount of free time students get outside.

“Over the course of accountability and testing, we have seen less and less time for kids to play and be themselves,” said Ken Zarifis, President of Education Austin. “The campuses that are low socioeconomic, that are struggling with scores, that’s where you see less recess, and one can argue they need it more than anyone.”

For the last year, the local teachers’ union has pushed to make 30-minute recess mandatory on every elementary campus, for every child.

Pre-kindergarten teacher Traci Dunlap says students on the campus where she teaches now are getting the full half hour and she notices the diference.

“It’s just a happier place,” said Dunlap. “The climate is just better. There’s a sense of joy on the campus.”

But a previous campus where she once taught with lower income families and lower test scores did not get as much recess time. Other AISD teachers have also told her their campuses have no recess at all.

Dunlap says teachers on those campuses are required to plan and facilitate organized outdoor exercise and activities for the children which is called W.O.W. time, Workout for Wellness. The structured physical activity was added when schools cut back on daily P.E. classes. Research shows structured outdoor time is not the same as recess, or unstructured time.

“When you allow kids that time, their academics improve,” said Dunlap.

Josefina Saldanor says her 5-year-old daughter, who is going into kindergarten at St. Elmo Elementary School, has trouble concentrating in class.

“If they take a little recess or break they come out fresh and more focused on what they’re doing,” said Saldanor, who believes her daughter will benefit from the recess change administrators are recommending to the school board.

In addition, teachers would not be able to take away a child’s recess for punishment, or have them do any type of academic work during that time.

The district’s recommendations are in line with those of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In a 2013 report, the AAP called recess crucial and necessary for a child’s development, and should not be taken away as punishment or for academic reasons.

The report went onto say beyond the physical benefits, 20 to 60 minutes of recess a day allows a child to develop cognitive skills and optimize their social and emotional learning.

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