Why these central Texas school districts are mandating recess


MANOR, Texas (KXAN) — Two central Texas school districts are ensuring every elementary school student gets daily recess that cannot be taken away as punishment or for academic purposes.

Manor and Leander ISDs made policy changes for this school year with the help of the Central Health Equity Policy Council to require at least 20 minutes of daily, unstructured play time.

Recess has been eroding in many schools across the country, sacrificed for test prep, classwork and other academic and punitive purposes.

“No one ever underestimates the importance of reading and math, but people can underestimate the importance of play,” Michael Perkins, Manor ISD’s executive director of curriculum, instruction and professional development, said.

Manor and Leander join other local districts like Austin ISD in making mandatory recess part of school policy. The policies specifically say recess should not be taken away as punishment and should be dedicated instead to unstructured play.

Cental Health says letting kids be kids is a positive step.

Megan Cermak, the organization’s senior healthcare planner, said the benefits of play go beyond physical health. Having at least 20 minutes of recess a day improves listening skills, cooperation and academic outcomes. “This could be the only time in a kid’s day where they get to choose how they spend their time.”

Outside at Shadowglen Elementary School in Manor, second grade teacher Rose Ann Chavez watched her kids playing soccer and running around the playground. She said she sees the benefits of unstructured recess firsthand. 

“It’s just a much-needed brain break,” she said.

Her students are much calmer when they get back to class and they’re able to focus better. Even 20 minutes can make a big difference.

It also makes a difference for lower-income students, Cermak said. In the end, access to recess is an equity issue when teachers are able to preempt play time for punishment or school work. Low-income students have less access overall to recess, she said, so setting aside time every day for nothing but play is a good way to improve outcome equality.

Texas state law requires a certain amount of physical education for students, around 135 minutes a week, but it doesn’t include language about recess time. Some states are moving to mandate unstructured play time.

“Think about what your favorite part of the school day was when you were a kid,” Cermak said. “It was recess time, and that’s what we’re trying to get back to.”

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