What the 2016 Shape of the Nation Report Says About Recess

by SPARK


four kids playing on recess equipment

The latest Shape of the Nation report included a combination of recess and research. Experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and SHAPE America have poured vast amounts of time and energy into figuring out how our children can get the most out of recess.

In the U.S., two recesses rarely look the same. Only eight states have policies that require schools to offer recess, and researchers found there were no real guidelines in any part of the country. This despite the recommendations that children engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day.

With that in mind, there’s no time like the present to reexamine the way your school looks at recess. This summary of the report’s 19 strategies should serve as a good start.

Formalize the Fun

Ever heard of a recess curriculum? One of the broad strategy recommendations of the Shape of the Nation report is to make significant leadership decisions so recess becomes a priority. This doesn’t mean recess should be rigid and regimented, but it does mean your school should have a written physical education plan so all school staff and supervisors understand why daily physical activity benefits their students’ health and focus.

Sit down with teachers, parents, and students and create a set of policies to guide recess. This can involve everything from designating indoor and outdoor play spaces to figuring out how to keep students safe if a freak snowstorm hits during recess. Your strategy should include your school’s philosophy about recess, the goals it will take to get there, and who is responsible for taking on each step.

If you’re not sure where to start, the CDC has a self-assessment tool schools can use to see where they’re doing well and the areas in which they still need improvement.

From Planning to Playground

It’s time to adapt your schoolyard or indoor recess space so students benefit from your planning.

When possible, schools should provide ample play equipment. The types of equipment will vary, based on the age categories of your school. Educators should look beyond soccer balls and jump ropes and ensure their bounty of recess gear includes equipment that is inclusive for children of all ages and abilities. Consider balls of different size, textures, and color, as well as manipulative equipment that can be used by children with gross motor delays.

In addition to equipment, the report recommends creating designated physical activity zones. For example, your schoolyard could be split into three areas: one each for sports, fitness skills, and relaxation. This schoolyard division will make recess more satisfying for students and avoid the accidents that inevitably happen when two sports collide. One of your physical activity zones should also acknowledge that exercise doesn’t just come in the form of traditional sports. Drama productions, mazes, and obstacle courses can be created by more creative staff members and will serve the same positive purpose: getting children on their feet and having fun.

Finally: safety first. The Shape of the Nation report found that just under half of American schools post safety rules and guidelines for equipment, despite almost all schools having this equipment available to students. Creating an accessible list of rules and ensuring play equipment meets safety standards is an excellent preventative measure your school should take.

Activate Your Community

Everyone should be invested and engaged in making recess a success. If you laid out supervisory roles in your written recess plan, now is the time to implement them. While most schools require teachers and parents to be supervisors, less encourage them to be physical activity facilitators. Facilitators guide students through different activities, which helps reduce injury, bullying, and exclusionary behavior. While safety supervisors should be adults, physical activity facilitators can be found within your student body. Allowing older students to organize and facilitate an activity of their choice is essential in positive youth development and can create valuable peer leadership opportunities.

Tweak for Next Year

No strategy is complete without a means to assess it. The report recommends schools gather information about recess: how much intense physical activity is the average child getting, how is this affecting classroom outcomes, discipline rates, etc. Gathering this information will help you constantly refine your recess plan and provide a source of evidence if anyone ever challenges your school’s recess values.

Physical activity time is an essential part of a child’s school day. By incorporating all or some of the Shape of the Nation’s strategies, you can be sure you’re making recess the best it can be.

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