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Schools Struggle To Fit In Recess And Academics

Kids play on a playground at a community center in Terre Haute

Schools in Indiana are facing increased pressure to fit academic requirements into the school day.

That’s cutting into time for recess, but a growing body of research supports the importance of recess in childhood development.

Donetta Cothran is a professor and director of undergraduate studies for the Indiana University Kinesiology department. She says neuroimaging, behavioral studies, and school performance research has repeatedly shown that recess helps in child development.

Cothran says recess is beneficial for children’s physical health, but it’s also important for brain development.

“Recess is child driven. It’s where they express themselves, where they learn to make choices that meet their need for that day,” Cothran says. “Some days I want to run and play tag, some days I just want to spend time with my friends and chill. It’s where they have an opportunity to guide their own experiences at school.”

But Sprunica Elementary School Principal Abbie Oliver says it’s hard to fit everything – including a state-mandated 90 minute reading period – into the school day. She says she wishes the state allowed more flexibility from school to school. But because there isn’t much leeway right now, parents should be aware of their children’s needs.

“I’m a parent and I know I want to know about my child’s day and talk with them about it and know what they are doing because it’s important then to have a balance at night,” Oliver says. “When you learn that your child is in 90 minutes of uninterrupted reading, sometimes they need to play before they do more reading at night instead of going right into reading.”

Indiana requires public elementary schools to provide students with five hours of instructional time each day – that cannot include time for lunch or recess.

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