Americans Want Schools to Take Recess Seriously

Thursday, December 11, 2008 General News
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PRINCETON, N.J., Dec. 10 Americans overwhelmingly believethat schools have a major role to play in advancing the health of our nation'skids, and they are specifically concerned about the lack of recess andphysical activity in schools, according to new polling results released todayby The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation's leading public-healthfoundation and Sports4Kids, a national nonprofit that brings safe and healthyplaytime to low-income elementary schools.

This survey represents the most up-to-date overview of public attitudes onrecess in schools and helps to explain the growing momentum of public supportto make play and physical activity an essential part of the school day. Italso reveals that Americans intuitively understand the critical relationshipbetween our health and where and how we live, work, learn and play, and thatthe physical and social environment in our schools have an outsized impact onthe health of our kids.

"All Americans increasingly understand that if we want to improve thehealth and well-being of our children, especially those in low-incomecommunities, we have to reach them where they are already living andlearning," explained James Marks, M.D., M.P.H., Senior Vice President andDirector, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Group. "The fact that kidsspend so much of their lives at school and on the playground offers one of ourbest chances to help children develop into healthy, active, adults who knowhow to work together and resolve conflicts. Those are life skills every childin America needs to learn."

Some key findings from the survey include:

-- Nearly four out of five parents believe that children aren't gettingenough physical playtime on a daily basis.

-- Seven out of 10 Americans disagree with schools' policies ofeliminating or reducing recess time for budgetary, safety or academic reasons.

-- An overwhelming majority of Americans believe that recess serves manyimportant functions for both students and teachers. For example, 91 percentbelieve that having a break with physical activity helps children stay focusedand learn in the classroom.

-- Nine in 10 agree that schools should be responsible for ensuring thatchildren partake in a healthy amount of physical activity during the schoolday.

-- Over 82 percent of Midwesterners believe children are getting less thanenough physical play time on a daily basis, compared to 76 percent of the restof the country.

-- Southerners are particularly concerned about cuts to recess, which isnot surprising given that schools in that region are most likely to scale backor eliminate recess compared to other U.S. regions.

-- The Northeast and Midwest are most unhappy with recent bans inschoolyard games such as tag and dodgeball -- three out of four adults in eachregion disagree with these changes.

"Americans intuitively understand that a well-managed recess can have apositive impact on many important parts of a child's life by making physicalactivity fun and helping kids learn better," said Jill Vialet, president ofSports4Kids. "After 13 years on America's playgrounds, we see firsthand thepositive impact an inclusive recess has on individual children who may nototherwise have a safe place to play, as well on the overall school climate.The benefit is tremendous."

This survey of American attitudes toward school playtime follows "RecessRules," a 2007 report issued by the Foundation that named recess as the singlemost effective -- yet the most underfunded -- strategy for increasing physicalactivity among children.

The new findings come at a time when many schools and school districts aremaking the difficult choice of cutting back on recess to make more time forstandardized test preparation, as outlined in a report this fall by the Centerfor Public Education. Cutbacks to recess tend to be concentrated in schoolsserving the highest number of minority students or students in poverty, makingunderserved children the least likely to get this valuable playtime. Considerthe following recent examples:

-- In Georgia, one third of Bibb County's elementary schools -- all ofwhich overwhelmingly serve low-income, African-American student populations --lack recess altogether. This is in part because of a lack of playgroundequipment, but largely because they are struggling to meet testing goals underNo Child Left Behind.

-- An elementary school in West Brookfield, Massachusetts, recentlydecided to replace its 15-minute outdoor recess period with an indoor workingsnack period. The decision prompted a group of unhappy parents to voice theirconcerns at a regional school committee meeting.

-- Schools in Okaloosa County, Florida, eliminated recess for a number ofreasons including safety concerns and a lack of space -- much of the schoolplayground has been taken up by portables that allow the school to providesmaller class sizes.

The good news is that many school districts and states across the country-- including Virginia, Connecticut and Wisconsin -- require schools to setaside time for recess and playtime on a regular basis, and that list isgrowing each year. Arizona, New Jersey, Illinois, South Carolina, andWashington are just a few of the states that have proposed legislation.

The poll was conducted by Kelton Research on behalf of Sports4Kids betweenSeptember 25 and September 29. A total of 1,000 U.S. adults (ages 18 and over)were polled for this survey.

About The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health andhealth care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropydevoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans,the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals toidentify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change.For more than 35 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment and arigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and healthcare of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthierlives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a differencein your lifetime. For more information, visit:

About Sports4Kids

Sports4Kids is a national nonprofit that has pioneered an effective modelfor using play to transform the learning environment at elementary schoolsserving America's minority and low-income children. Sports4Kids puts trainedcoaches on the playground to introduce classic games that are disappearingfrom schoolyards, like kickball and four square, as well as new games designedto build leadership and foster teamwork. They currently bring safe and healthyplaytime to 170 schools in seven cities nationwide, serving 65,000 studentsdaily, and they plan to expand into more than 600 schools in 27 cities by2012. For more information visit:


Jenny Park, (415) 901-0111, jpark@fenton.comTo view the poll results, go to:

SOURCE The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

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