Recess before lunch: Get out the wiggles and get down to work

There is an interesting New York Times piece on the positive changes associated with scheduling recess before lunch. Among the pluses: Kids actually ate their lunches and they were more focused in class. (The piece presumes recess as a fact of life in schools, which is not always the case in Georgia.)

I can vouch that my children and their classmates often sped through lunch because they were so anxious to get to the playground – their playground time used to follow lunch. I can also vouch for the massive waste of food.

I often see children pick through their lunch trays or their lunch boxes, eat the corn chips and throw away the turkey sandwich. Witnessing one boy toss out his sandwich and his apple not long ago, I told him that he was throwing away the best parts. “I am not hungry at lunch,” he told me. “But my mom makes me take a lunch anyway.”

According to the Times story on holding recess before lunch:

Schools that have tried it report that when children play before lunch, there is less food waste and higher consumption of milk, fruit and vegetables. And some teachers say there are fewer behavior problems.

“Kids are calmer after they’ve had recess first,” said Janet Sinkewicz, principal of Sharon Elementary School in Robbinsville, N.J., which made the change last fall. “They feel like they have more time to eat and they don’t have to rush.”

One recent weekday at Sharon, I watched as gaggles of second graders chased one another around the playground and climbed on monkey bars. When the whistle blew, the bustling playground emptied almost instantly, and the children lined up to drop off their coats and mittens and file quietly into the cafeteria for lunch.

“All the wiggles are out,” Ms. Sinkewicz said.

One of the earliest schools to adopt the idea was North Ranch Elementary in Scottsdale, Ariz. About nine years ago, the school nurse suggested the change, and the school conducted a pilot study, tracking food waste and visits to the nurse along with anecdotal reports on student behavior.

By the end of the year, nurse visits had dropped 40 percent, with fewer headaches and stomachaches. One child told school workers that he was happy he didn’t throw up anymore at recess.

Other children had been rushing through lunch to get to the playground sooner, leaving much uneaten. After the switch, food waste declined and children were less likely to become hungry or feel sick later in the day. And to the surprise of school officials, moving recess before lunch ended up adding about 15 minutes of classroom instruction.

6 comments Add your comment

Mr/ C/

January 27th, 2010
6:19 am

As a teacher all I can say is YES! & First?


January 27th, 2010
7:29 am

At our school kids’ little 15 minutes of recess can’t be tightly controlled so that everyone gets in and out like that. It would work well in a smaller, more friendly sized school. Besides, we would miss some of our 2 hours and 20 minutes of tightly controlled reading (only) class!

Current parent, former teacher

January 27th, 2010
7:55 am

I’m a big proponent of recess, and I mean unstructured play—pure running, climbing, talking to friends, etc. What’s been passing as active time in DeKalb County ES–for years–is PE class every day in which the teachers have ALL of the kids from one grade level at a time (at least 100 kids). This isn’t PE.

However, I think the DeKalb ES have recess again. I’d like to hear from the DeKalb County parents who advocated for (and I think successfully got passed) a return of recess in our ES. Along with that, I’d like to see the schools go back to one class at a time receiving instruction in PE, so that the kids can learn skills and not just be herded around the PE field.

As a former teacher, I think the idea of PE before lunch is a brilliant idea!


January 27th, 2010
4:09 pm

If parents and teachers are for it, and there is research to show that it works, then there’s no way it’ll happen. Oops, there goes my cynicism again.


January 27th, 2010
5:29 pm

I can not wait to share this news with the teachers of my school. They are given flexibility in scheduling their recess times and many of the insist that recess must be after lunch. This is indeed good news. PS: The design of the study is badly flawed, but since I like the results I’m accepting them without question.

Ole Guy

January 28th, 2010
10:09 pm

Before my former employer got smart and installed a locker room/shower facility on the campus, a small but ever-increasing number of us weekend jocks would, at lunch time, disappear into the nearest office closets, shed the 3-piece monkey suits, and emerge in shorts, singlets, and running shoes. Following our form of “adult recess”, it was back into the closets; reversing the earlier procedure, we would soon be back at the myriad meetings, paper shuffling exercises, and moments of corporate contemplation…ALL-THE-WHILE SWEATING until the building ac allowed a return to the appearance of office decorum.

Admittedly, those first few moments “at the grind” were somewhat challenging. After all, what with slowly diminishing perspiration and heart rates, it took a little extra concentration to reorient thought processes to that which we were being paid to do…BUT AS MATURE ADULTS, THE MOTIVATION FACTOR ALWAYS KICKED IN. Are we to expect this same level of concentration from kids? It would appear that, rather then demanding adaptability to the program, we would entertain the very thought of adapting the program to the kids. If, indeed, this is in line with the latest pop craze in educational theory, than who am I to question the judgements of those who seem to be at the helm of an already failing endeavor. Just like the machine operator who, not knowing which switch to throw in the event of a malfunction, starts throwing switches at random in the hopes that, somehow, the right switch will be stumbled upon…the ed elite comes up with “pop cures” before completely understanding what’s going on.

Until the ed elite, AND parents, start demanding student performance in the classroom, anything else…any other attempts in coaxing performance…IS DOOMED TO FAIL. The day you folks stop being afraid of these kids…afraid that they, somehow, won’t LIKE you…you just might muster up the guts to do something direct and positive…AND STOP PLAYING GAMES!