Edmonds schools hope to bring some order to recess

BRIER — Sure, we all have memories of how much fun recess can be — jumping rope, basketball, four square.

But playgrounds also can be the breeding grounds for conflict, bullying and trash talk, problems that educators say occupy too much of their time.

Next month, six elementary schools in the Edmonds School District will launch a program aimed at getting kids to be more active at recess, which, they believe, also will reduce bullying and increase kids’ readiness to learn.

“We know recess is kind of this untapped potential,” said Jennifer Hershey, a school district fitness coordinator. “We know that kids who are healthier and fitter do better in school.”

The program will be available this year at Cedar Valley, College Place, Oak Heights, Spruce, Brier and Mountlake Terrace elementary schools.

Each school decides when recesses are scheduled, but most elementary school students get 45 minutes of recess per day.

There are similar programs to get kids more active at recess across the U.S. But Hershey and co-worker Jennifer McCloughan decided to tailor a program for the Edmonds School District.

“We know that recess can be chaotic,” Hershey said. “We know a lot of discipline problems happen at recess.”

That means teachers and office staff have to serve as mediators for behavior problems and deal with injuries on the playground. Teachers often spend 15 to 30 minutes a day dealing with such problems, according to an informal survey of principals.

The program will track whether the number of playground-related discipline problems decreases at the six elementary schools.

School playgrounds will have more clearly delineated activity zones, such as four square, hopscotch and basketball. “There are specific areas for kids on the playground to do the activities they want,” Hershey said. The areas set aside for a specific activity, such as jump rope, will prevent conflicts with kids participating in nearby activities, such as basketball.

“Our basic idea is to help recess become a little more structured, in the sense that kids know what their choices are,” Hershey said. The program will work with physical education teachers to reinforce playground rules for safety.

Students will be selected to be recess mentors to help with games and give students “a little bit of leadership on the playground,” she said.

Playworks, an Oakland, California, nonprofit, has similar recess goals — encouraging vigorous activity and creating a safe play environment. The organization expects to have its program in 900 schools nationally this year, said Jill Vialet, chief executive of Playworks.

A number of studies, including one published last month in the medical journal Pediatrics, suggest there are connections between a student’s physical activity and academic achievement, Vialet said.

“It seems the key brain piece is around the ability to impose order on your thinking,” she said. That makes for better concentration, the ability to multi-task and better impulse control.

Research conducted by Playworks shows that kids come back to class ready to learn. “From a common-sense perspective, as a parent, I know when my kids have gotten to run around, they’re just more agreeable,” she said. “It would make sense that the teacher would have that same experience.”

Some parents might bristle at the idea of imposing some structure into the times in a school day when kids are just supposed to play and be kids.

It’s not a prescribed program, Hershey said. “We won’t be out there running calisthenics but giving some consistency to recess.”

For the past three years, the school district has had an after-school program to encourage activity, called Move 60. But a maximum of 50 kids can participate at each school. The goal since that program started is to have a similar program available to more kids during recess, Hershey said.

“We want to give kids more options and more choices, to get involved, to be safe, to find something they’ll be more interested in so they’re more active,” she said.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

Benefits

A recent study found that schools with programs to increase physical activity at recess also had:

*Significantly less bullying.

*An increased sense of school safety.

*More vigorous physical activity.

*More students ready to learn after recess.

Source: Stanford University and Mathematica Policy Research

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