Monday, October 8, 2007

The Letter

Dear Mr. Markoe:

I am writing about recess. My daughter is in kindergarten, and before school began, she spent hours outside each day, playing all kinds of physical, imaginative, and creative games. Now she gets at most 20 minutes of recess per day, which is barely enough to blow off the steam from sitting in a classroom for three or four hours and nowhere near enough to get involved in any meaningful games. My understanding from Ms. Ober is that this time limit is a guideline that comes out of your office, and I would like to respectfully suggest that it be changed.

As you are undoubtedly aware, there is compelling evidence to suggest that unstructured play is an integral part of learning for children [e.g. Pellegrini, Huberty & Jones, 1995]. Healthy children play elaborate games of make-believe, which teach them not only social skills but also how to think abstractly [Jarrett et al, 2001]. In addition, physical activity is crucial for healthy development, and our children do not get anywhere near enough of it [Etnier et al, 1997; Waite-Stupiansky & Findlay, 2001]. A physical education class every fourth day, although nice, does not meet this need. When kindergarten was half-day, we could assume (however falsely) that kids played outside when they got home. Now, however, they are in school for six or seven hours each day, plus time spent on the bus. They desperately need more unstructured playtime and physical activity.

As an educator myself, I am acutely aware of the pressure on you to meet local, state, and national standards. I am also aware that the consequences of not meeting those standards can be dire. But many of the standards are at best misguided and at worst actually damaging, and there comes a point when we must push back. We must say no, this is not what’s best for these children, and we won’t do it that way.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Etnier, J. L., Salazar, W., Landers, D. M., Petruzzello, S. J., Han, M., & Nowell, P. (1997). The influence of physical fitness and exercise upon cognitive functioning: A meta-analysis. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 19(3), 249-277.

Jarrett, O. S., Farokhi, B., Young, C., & Davies, G. (2001). Boys and girls at play: Games and recess at a southern urban elementary school. In S. Reifel (Ed.), Play and Culture Studies, Volume 3: Theory In Context and Out, 147-170. Westport, CT: Ablex.

Pellegrini, A. D., Huberty, P. D., & Jones, I. (1995). The effects of recess timing on children's playground and classroom behaviors. American Educational Research Journal, 32(4), 845-864. EJ 520 960.

Waite-Stupiansky, S., & Findlay, M. (2001). The fourth R: Recess and its link to learning. Educational Forum, 66(1), 16-24.


Rae Pica said...

Yes! What a wonderful letter! I couldn't have said it better myself -- and as a children's physical activity specialist for the past 27 years, I've spent a lot of time fighting for recess.

I agree that there comes a time when we must push back. The policy makers are NOT the ones with a background in child development and educational theories. They have NOT spent hours and hours in classrooms with young children. Thus, they have no right to make the decisions that impact children and their teachers.

The irony is that, if students are expected to meet strict standards, they actually have a better chance of doing so if they get more, rather than less, physical activity! The research is there to prove it! And if we have any doubts, all we have to do is look to Finland, the country that's number-one in the world in literacy and numeracy. They give their students a 15-minute break after every 45 minutes of instruction and have shorter school days than we do! (See "What Finland's Doing Right" in the September files at my blog:

Eliza said...

That school has no idea who they are dealing with....I am so proud of you, and Lucy & Ben are lucky to have such an amazing advocate. Keep on keeping on! 143Lize