No time for play

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Ask just about any elementary school student what their favorite subject is, and the answer more often than not is recess.

When playground doors burst open, it is best not to stand near them or you'll get trampled, said Carol Horst, an art teacher at South Elementary in Jackson who was on playground duty.

Before the children are even through the doors and into the sunlight they are running. Running to the swings. Running to the jungle gym. Even running to the nearby field to just run.

Recess is one of the only times during the school day when children are encouraged to run wild and yell at the top of their lungs, but with MAP tests and the No Child Left Behind act mandating more instructional time during the school day, recess is becoming shorter and in some schools, like in Atlanta, is disappearing altogether.

An estimated 40 percent of elementary schools across the country have eliminated or cut back recess, according to the American Association for the Child's Right to Play, a group of teachers, professors, playground designers and parents who wants to protect, preserve, and promote play as a fundamental right for all people.

In Southeast Missouri, recess is still a part of every elementary schooler's day, but in some area schools it lasts only about 15 minutes.

This year is the shortest year for recess that Clippard Elementary in Cape Girardeau has had, said Susan Diebold, playground supervisor.

ADHD researchers and school educators say shorter recesses make it more difficult for children to pay attention in afternoon classes. They also say leftover energy can lead to behavior problems and exacerbate ADHD in some children.

"They need to run," said Susan Floyd, a first-grade teacher at South Elementary School in Jackson.

There is so much the schools expect students to do in a classroom where they have to sit still, Floyd said.

While in kindergarten and first grade the children do "move around" activities in the classroom. But those don't replace playground activities where children use gross motor skills like running or jumping.

There used to be more time for social interaction during the school day, Floyd said. About 15 years ago there was much more learning through play, but now learning is much more academic oriented, she said.

Floyd said she would like to see recess last a little longer, but she understands why it has been shortened.

"Only so much can be done in one school day, and something has to give somewhere," she said.

Tristan Ernst, a third-grader at North Elementary, said he wishes recess was just a little longer because he would be able to have more fun.

Ernst said sometimes in the warmer months it is hard for him to pay attention right after recess because he is still hot and sweaty from all the running he did.

"The bell rings too early," said Amber Pinkerton, a third-grader at North.

She said sometimes she doesn't get to play tether ball because the line is too long.

Anna Garner, a second-grader at Clippard Elementary in Cape Girardeau, wishes recess was longer so she could have more time to play tag with her friends.

Miranda Grim, a fifth-grader at North, said sometimes if they take too long at lunch they don't get any recess at all.

North principal David Gross said recess is important for a child's socialization and for learning to follow the rules. Recess helps to settle the children down in their classes, he said.

John Aysuo, a fourth-grader at Jefferson Elementary in Cape Girardeau, said recess makes him pay more attention in school because he is not as hyper and has used up all his extra energy.

Scott City Elementary has come up with a solution for dissappearing recesses. Every grade from kindergarten through fifth has a half-hour block of recess every day. Instead of trying to have all of the students out for recess around lunchtime, principal Courtney Kern spreads recesses throughout the entire school day. Some grades have their recesses around lunch time, while others take theirs in the morning or afternoon. nstead of playground supervisors, the teachers go out with their class to supervise.

Kern said she was approached by students to make recess longer because when they played games -- kickball, for example -- not everyone had a chance to take their turn.Because of the time it takes to eat lunch and get students out to the playground, the students were not getting their full recess time, Kern said. Not to mention that some of the younger ones were getting sick after eating lunch and then running around on the playground, she said.

Blocking off recess also allows the school to schedule longer blocks of time in the classroom, said Kern.

At the end of recesses in Scott City, Jackson and Cape Girardeau, a few stragglers wanted to stay out just a few more minutes.

It didn't matter what the temperature was or how red their faces were. Teachers had to pull children away from jungle gyms, entice them away from the tether ball court or put an end to some mean games of tag. For students everywhere, there will never be enough time to play.

ameyer@semissourian.com

335-6611 extension 127

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