Studies Show that Free Play Time Reduces Childhood Obesity, Helps Students Concentrate and Develop Communication Skills
TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner that would aid with child development by increasing cognitive skills, reducing obesity and bettering classroom behavior by ensuring all children receive some free play time during the school day was unanimously approved today by the Senate Education Committee.
“Studies show that recess provides students with core skills needed to succeed in the classroom and in life. Not only does it help students develop cognitive skills, and teach them teamwork, cooperation and communication skills, but it also is essential for the health of our children,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer and Hunterdon, Vice Chair of the Education Committee. “It is important that we stop thinking of recess as something that takes time away from learning in the classroom and instead as part of a curriculum that will help our students stay healthy, as well as develop important skills.”
The bill, S-1501, would require New Jersey public schools to provide a minimum of 20 minutes a day of recess for children in grades kindergarten through five.
According to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report, most school principals say that recess actually enhances the ability of children to learn in the classroom and improves academic achievement. The survey also concluded that nearly all principals surveyed believe that recess has a positive of social development and general well-being of the child.
The Senator notes that recess is also essential for the health of our children and to establish early habits of good nutrition and exercise that will have a long term impact on the country’s health care costs. Childhood obesity has become an epidemic in the United States with the Centers for Disease Control estimating that 17 percent of children and adolescents are obese, a number that has tripled since 1980. A Brookings Institute paper states that health care costs related to childhood obesity are already at $14.1 billion annually. Senator Turner notes that as obese children become obese adults, that cost of an increasingly overweight population will become an unmanageable strain on the nation’s health care system according to Senator Turner.
“The American Heart Association has found that obese children’s arteries resemble the thickness of artery walls of an average 45-year-old and the prevalence of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure is alarming. This is caused by poor diets of fast food, junk food and soda and sedentary lifestyles where kids spend their free time playing video games or watching television. Like generations before them, kids just need to get out and play,” added Senator Turner.
Unfortunately many schools are taking away recess in order to focus on meeting academic standards and improving student test scores, according to Senator Turner. Forty percent of US schools have reduced or eliminated recess, according to Childhood Education, the bimonthly journal of the Association for Childhood Education International, and high-minority, high-poverty and urban schools have seen even greater cuts into the children’s recess time.
The bill also states that no student could be denied recess for any reason.
A 2009 study of 11,000 eight and nine year olds by the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics showed those who had more than 15 minutes of recess a day behaved better in the classroom.
Senator Turner notes that the practice of taking away recess as a punishment for bad behavior is actually counterproductive.
“Much like adults need to take coffee breaks in the middle of a long work day, kids need playtime to concentrate on their afternoon school work. By revoking recess privileges as a form of discipline, we are removing the chance for children to play out their pent up energy and are actually perpetuating the bad behavior,” said Senator Turner.
The bill now heads to the full Senate for approval.