Fine Print: The Health Study that Could Help Turn School Recess Into Law

John Mooney | January 8, 2016 | Education
Giving kids a break is at the heart of a Senate bill that wants to ensure that recess is part of every school day

kids playground
What it is: A national study in 2013 by the American Academy of Pediatrics first promoted the value of recess in the school day, saying the health and social benefits were invaluable and measurable.

What it means: The study helped launch a push for more free time in the school day that culminated yesterday in the state Senate unanimously approving a bill that would require 20 minutes of recess a day for every student from kindergarten through fifth grade.

What it really means: Many New Jersey elementary schools already have recess built into their days; an informal survey indicated only a few exceptions. But the bill approved by both the Senate and the Assembly sends a message from legislators, in a time of rising academic expectations on schools and students.

The prospects: The bill now moves to the desk of Gov. Chris Christie. With it drawing both Democratic and Republican support, it would seem an easy call, but with Christie running for the GOP presidential nomination, nothing is certain.

The study’s findings: The AAP study was considered seminal at the time, putting research behind the benefits of playtime in a school day. “Just as physical education and physical fitness have well-recognized benefits for personal and academic performance, recess offers its own, unique benefits,” read the report. “Recess represents an essential, planned respite from rigorous cognitive tasks. It affords a time to rest, play, imagine, think, move, and socialize.”

The bill’s progress: After first being proposed two years ago, the bill gathered some life this year as the state grappled with the advent of new student testing and the added expectations that come with it.

A word from its sponsor: “Research has shown how productive a person can be after taking a few minutes to rest, relax and put their mind at ease,” said Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer). “Our students are learning every day for hours at a time, and a break is not only needed but is also beneficial to their learning.”

Another study: A subsequent study from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation also touted the value of recess, polling nearly 2,000 principals nationwide to the value of free time in the day.