Recess Before Lunch

Recess Before Lunch

Photograph by Jeff Woodward.It’s always affirming when studies corroborate behaviors that we already practice, or at least espouse.

For example, on the personal front, I’ve been thrilled to see nutrition articles lately citing evidence that kale and sweet potatoes are good for me, since they are two of my favorite foods. (And let’s not forget those airtight findings on the health benefits of dark chocolate and red wine, a couple of other personal favorites.)

And on the professional front, I was pleased to see a New York Times article last week citing evidence about the positive changes that accrue from scheduling recess before lunch in elementary schools, since that is a practice that we’ve advocated for over twenty-five years now.

The schools profiled in the article report fewer behavior problems, not only at lunch, but throughout the afternoon. As one principal reports, “the wiggles are out.” They have documented less food waste and fewer nurse visits. And, interestingly, one Arizona school reported a gain of 15 minutes per day in instructional time, since the “cool-down” period after recess occurred during lunch, rather than during classroom time. Compare those comments with elementary principal Gail Healy’s description of her community’s experience with switching recess and lunch in the Winter 2001 issue of the Responsive Classroom Newsletter. You’ll notice the alignment.

Although a 2006 study cited in the article states that only 5% of elementary schools currently follow the play-then-eat formula, this may be a common-sense idea whose time has come, given the current attention on children’s nutrition and health in school. After all, as adults, how many of us down a meal and then immediately head out for a run or to the gym?

It’s true that reordering the midday schedule often requires rethinking some management routines, such as hand-washing and getting outerwear on and off. Surely that’s an investment that will repay itself many times over if it results in healthier children who return from their midday time settled and ready for an afternoon of learning.

Roxann Kriete has been involved with CRS since 1985, and was executive director from 2001 to 2011. She is the author of The Morning Meeting Book and co-author of The First Six Weeks of School.

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