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.