Georgia bill proposing required recess would mean changes for some schools

Recess is usually a student's favorite time of day, and now Georgia lawmakers want to make sure children get more of that break time. The bill would make it so students in grades K-5 would have at least 30 minutes of daily recess. Right now - Georgia law allows every board of education to make its own policies for unstructured activity times. The bill would not allow recess to be taken away as punishment.

In Catoosa County, all students in the grades mentioned by the bill have recess for about 30 minutes. But in Walker County - students in the same grade levels get 20 minutes of recess a day.

"Our days could be either possibly extended to accommodate it if they felt like they needed that extra time," said Chris Chambers, Walker County Schools Director of Student Services.

Chambers say - although allotting more time for play might be a challenge - the bill is still a good idea.

"Sometimes you have to invest in certain activities to reap the benefits of instruction," said Chambers. "Accountability factors that we've had placed on schools made us have to choose between that extra time in reading or math or that extra time to play. And sometimes the playtime is sacrificed. And it may be that we need to reevaluate that."

Troy Kemp is with the McCallie School and is Executive Director for the National Center for the Development of Boys.

"Playground education is very valuable today," said Troy Kemp. "And that's what's really missing in most communities. We understand that, particularly for young men, they need to get outside and move around because most of their emotional intelligence is related to physical activity."

According to Kemp, all students absorb knowledge different ways - and most boys - learn by doing.

"I think understanding where you are, self awareness, comes from play - free play," said Kemp.

In a statement, Demetrius Douglas (R-Stockbridge) who introduced the bill said, "This is a policy parents and I spoke about when I was campaigning in my past two terms. I was knocking on doors and attending neighborhood meetings and recess was being brought up to me numerous times; I attribute it to my background in professional sports. I started talking to parents about recess and everyone agreed that this would be a great policy to bring back in the schools.

I started doing more research into this issue and discovered the American Academy of Pediatrics cites 47 research articles that recommend 60 minutes of active unstructured play daily, explaining that children who get regular recess are healthier, better able to focus, and develop the social and emotional skills necessary to be engaged learners. In addition, children from Finland, who are provided with 15 minutes of recess for every hour children are in the classroom, have some of the highest scores on international standardized tests. Furthermore, when an elementary school in Texas, based on the Finnish curriculum, increased recess to 60 minutes a day with four 15 minute breaks for children to go outside and play, teachers found that halfway through the year, they were far ahead of the academic schedule, also noticing that the children were more attentive, made better eye contact, and learned concepts more quickly.

The research supported the policy that my constituents wanted; so I decided to introduce a resolution in 2016 (HR 1342) to start a conversation and to gauge the support among other communities in Georgia. HR 1342 passed the House 171-3; which meant there was support across all types of communities in the state."

Under the bill, every school district would still have the authority to set its own policies for free time for students in grades six to eight.

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