What the Nation Can Learn from Georgia Elementary Schools
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Good news for Georgia students: recess is now mandatory!
May 2022 has marked a new beginning in the Georgia School System. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed a bill into law requiring Georgia elementary schools to allow recess every day except days with inclement weather and other special circumstances. The bill will take effect in the upcoming 2022-2023 school year. Although the amount of recess time remains unspecified and up to each school board’s discretion, this bill is a major step forward in making the school day age-appropriate again.
Before Gov. Kemp signed the bill, recess was allotted, or not, at each educator’s discretion. While some teachers like myself are strong advocates for movement, including brain breaks, centers, and recess, many others ignore the need and benefits of these. Worse yet, many teachers use recess as a bargaining chip to manage classroom behavior. I have heard teachers threaten to take the entire class’ recess time away. Colleagues have asked me to host other students in a time-out as their classmates went out to play. While I understand the difficulty in managing behavioral issues, I do not believe taking away a child’s only physical outlet is the way to do this. It is also worth noting that the students who repeatedly lose recess are often the ones who need it the most.
Furthermore, teachers could take recess away if they felt they needed more time for lessons. With today’s overly and ineffectively rigorous curriculum, students lose recess too often. This mostly took place in the upper elementary grades, the grades that take the Georgia Milestones, the standardized tests for grades 3-8 in Georgia. Hopefully, the new Georgia law eradicates such practices. Mandatory recess will certainly offer several benefits.
Recess Can Reduce Childhood Obesity
The Georgia law addresses major concerns and issues facing America’s school-aged children, including childhood obesity and the lack of proper socialization. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 14.7 million children and adolescents were categorized as obese between 2017-2020. While many factors, including improper nutrition and genetics, contribute to childhood obesity, there is no denying that physical inactivity is among the major contributors.
In Georgia, children are subjected to mandatory instruction, or seat time, during which lessons take place. This accounts for nearly 80 percent of the school day. During instruction time, students mostly sit indoors at a table, desk, or on a rug, for hours during the day. The lack of physical activity during this time is detrimental to a child’s and educator’s health. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), chronic physical inactivity is one of the leading causes of death and disability today. A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to obesity and obesity-caused illnesses. A sedentary lifestyle forced upon school-aged children potentially sets them up for a future of disease and disability. The mandatory recess law, however, will help bring physical activity into the lives of children and educators again. According to the CDC, even 10 minutes of physical activity per day can save hundreds of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars spent on healthcare for obesity-related illnesses.
Recess Promotes Proper Socialization
Furthermore, the law allows more time for proper socialization. While students are around each other for more than six hours a day, they rarely have time to socialize freely. Lectures, independent activities, and teacher-led small groups take up the majority of the day. In the halls, adults often require children to stay silent. There are even efforts to keep children silent in the lunchroom, removing students’ only time to socialize. The lack of socialization opportunities could lead to anxiety disorders, which are already rising among America’s youth. According to the CDC, 5.8 million children ages 3-17 were diagnosed with anxiety between 2016-2019. Recess allows children to learn socialization skills, including speaking and listening, negotiating, and sharing. Learing these tactics early can prevent improperly socialized adults and many social anxiety disorders for future generations.
The Benefits of Recess
In addition to addressing these major concerns, the law also benefits students and staff in a variety of other ways. The CDC states that recess can also reduce behavioral issues in the classroom, reduce learning disruptions, and improve student memory, attention, and concentration. In addition, recess can improve the overall classroom environment, relationships among students, parents, teachers, and administrators, and standardized test scores.
It has taken years of calls for change, vetoed bills, and negotiation to get this life-saving legislature passed in Georgia. As we look to the 2022-23 school year, I am excited to see the extraordinary changes that will result from this bill: happier, healthier children and teachers, stagnation or decline in obesity and obesity-related illnesses, and improved academic standing. I hope this bill spurs movement, both literally and figuratively, throughout the nation. After all, when children’s health and well-being are put first, then children, educators, and the entire education system benefit.
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