Kids, lace up your sneakers. You’re about to get more recess.
The Loudoun County School Board voted tonight to give kindergartners at least 40 minutes of recess each school day and give first through fifth grade students at least 30 minutes.
Most Loudoun elementary students have been getting 15 minutes on the playground. But there’s been a push from parents and teachers for more unstructured free time. The statewide campaign, called More Recess for Virginians, cites studies that show more unstructured free time improves kids’ concentration and memory and helps them stay on task in the classroom.
With the hope of getting the most out of extending recess, the School Board’s new policy requires that the time be split into two blocks, whenever possible, with one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
Whether to add the words “whenever possible” to that part of the policy was a point of contention among board members.
Debbie Rose (Algonkian) said that adding “whenever possible” negates the mandate to give kids two breaks throughout the day. “This doesn’t have to be line them up every day and get them outside. One could be 25 minutes on the playground and another could be a five-minute activity in the classroom.”
Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) agreed. He noted that parents and teachers asked for more consistency throughout the county’s elementary schools, and a firmer policy language would do that. He said some students are getting recess at the beginning or end of their day, so they’re not getting a mental break. “We want to strike that balance between providing some flexibility to make it feasible but also provide consistencies,” he said.
But the majority of the board voted to give principals and teachers more discretion in how they meet the new recess minimums.
Beth Huck (At Large) said as a former teacher, she understands that it might be tough to get two recess times in, even if it’s two blocks of 15 minutes. “Sometimes all the things you have to get in just aren’t possible in the chunks of time allotted.”
Sandy Sullivan, who teaches third grade at Legacy Elementary, spoke to the board ahead of its vote. She said she’d personally love to see kids have unstructured playtime in the morning and afternoon, but that’s sometimes not realistic.
“Mandating two periods may create unintended consequences,” she added. “It can be quite challenging to get everyone lined up and down the hall and out to the playground.”
Loudoun’s decision to provide kids with more recess comes on the heels of a new Virginia law, which takes effect July 1, that allows school systems to count up to 50 minutes of recess each day as part of the instructional day. It also reduces the minimum instructional hours that must be spent teaching English, math, science and social studies by a total of 21 minutes per day.
Since the new law passed, Prince William County Public Schools and Fairfax County Public Schools agreed to double their elementary students’ recess time to 30 minutes a day.