Play time: How should Montclair’s schools offer recess?
By ERIN ROLL
About 500 parents want to bring back a 40-minute recess to Montclair Schools for grades K-5 and longer periods for middle school students.
But with the need of more playground supervisors cited as part of the problem, one school has adopted a parent volunteer system to keep recess going.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day.
BOE President Laura Hertzog said that Montclair does have a recess policy in place, but it only covers the elementary grades.
How much time Montclair’s children get outside for recess varies greatly depending on what school they attend and their grade level.
Most of the elementary schools have a minimum of 25 minutes of recess time for first grade onward, according to a recess summary prepared by the district. Hillside’s students are given at least 27 minutes. Kindergarten students generally receive an extra 30 minutes of outdoor playtime, which adds up to a total of 50 minutes of outside time.
The schools also differ in whether recess is counted as part of physical education. The middle schools do not count recess toward its PE minutes, while most of the elementary schools do. At Edgemont, however, recess is not included as part of the school’s total PE time. Edgemont’s recess includes 10 minutes of scheduled activity, such as a lap around Edgemont Park or a structured game in addition to play time.
At the middle schools, Buzz Aldrin and Glenfield generally allow 20 minutes a day for recess, while Renaissance offers 25 minutes.
At Glenfield, however, the recess arrangements are different from at the other two middle schools. “DEAR [Drop Everything and Read] could be choice of recess time, structured and unstructured,” the data sheet says. “House Gill and Lofrano do indoor activities as opposed to outdoor based on locations of their houses.” The document prepared by the district did not offer any details on why this was the case.
Parents are proposing more free play time. DEAR, which takes place during recess time, was not a valid substitute for outdoor recess, said Rachael Quinn Egan, the parent of a Glenfield student.
Egan is one of the founders of Montclair Parents for Recess, a Facebook group of Montclair parents who are petitioning the district to set up a standard policy for recess at the schools.
Petitioning for more playtime
Last year, the group presented a petition to the district “At present, Montclair public school children get roughly 22 minutes for lunch and 23 minutes for recess, and spend much of the winter having indoor recess in their classrooms,” the petition stated.
The petition called for the school administration to enforce a district-wide policy that includes the following guidelines:
• All children will receive at least 40 minutes of recess a day.
• A child will not be told to miss recess for punitive reasons.
• Recess will be held outdoors unless the temperatures fall below 20 degrees or if conditions are otherwise dangerous to children’s health and safety.
Recess is mentioned in the district’s wellness policy. At the elementary level, “the principal will encourage classroom teachers to encourage brief, physical activity breaks into the school day to establish an environment that promotes regular physical activity throughout the school day.”
At the middle school and high school level, the wellness policy calls for physical education taught by certified teachers, intramural sports opportunities and after-school activities and clubs where physical activity is included.
Parents step up
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in partnership with SHAPE (Society of Health and Physical Educators) America, put together a booklet of strategies for implementing and improving recess in schools, which includes getting the community involved.
The board of education’s policy committee is having general discussions of how to implement changes, including on recess length and offerings, into the district policies on recess, Hertzog said.
“Recess represents an essential, planned respite from rigorous cognitive tasks. It affords a time to rest, play, imagine, think, move, and socialize,” the American Academy of Pediatrics said in a report about the benefits of recess. “After recess, for children or after a corresponding break time for adolescents, students are more attentive and better able to perform cognitively. In addition, recess helps young children to develop social skills that are otherwise not acquired in the more structured classroom environment.”
Jennifer Wroblewski’s son, a fourth-grader at Hillside, told her that instead of going outside for recess, he had been spending time practicing with his percussion teacher or sitting in the cafeteria. Speaking with other parents, she discovered a number of children were hesitant to go out onto the playground because there weren’t very many adults supervising.
She noted that most of the teachers are working full schedules with other responsibilities on top of supervising recess. “It’s a playground with 200 big kids on it at recess,” she said.
She found the lack of supervision the rationale for less recess at some of the other schools, as well.
After approaching Hillside Principal Samanthaa Anglin, the school and the parents set up a program in which parents were trained as recess supervisors.
The parents sit in the cafeteria with the children while they have lunch, then follow the children out to playground for recess time.
With the new program’s success through February and March, Wroblewski said the school was interested in continuing the program indefinitely. Hillside’s program might be used as a model for similar programs at the other schools, she said.