Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie recently vetoed legislation that would have guaranteed daily recess to children in New Jersey’s elementary schools. He stated, “because part of my job as governor is to veto the stupid bills. That was a stupid bill and I vetoed it.” The bill would have required 20 minutes of daily recess for children in grades k-5 and easily passed in the state Senate and Assembly. Christie gave excuses for vetoing the bill including the large number of bills (158) that made it across his desk in the last few days of the legislative session and the fact that he believed that the bill required outdoor recess even in inclement weather.
As much as it pains me to say it, Governor Christie is right. It is ridiculous that we should have to mandate recess. Recess should already be recognized as an essential need in the school day. Children need a break from learning; their bodies and brains thrive on movement and play. Kids (and people in general) learn better when they have their learning broken up rather than in large concentrated doses. Taking a break for unstructured play can help focus children and makes for less fidgeting. And studies show that physical activity is good for the brain as well by increasing flow to blood vessels. Memory is enhanced by taking a break to move. I can barely sit still for a three-hour grad school class as a woman in my late 30’s and find taking a break to be refreshing. It feels necessary for my brain to feel renewed and ready to learn more. As a mama of 4 kids, I have been humbled by my children’s inability to sit still for more than about 6 seconds and have seen the benefits that play bring. I’m a work before play kind of person, but have found that my children focus and sit attentively to work on homework after they’ve had some free time outside running, riding a bike, or jumping on the trampoline. They come in ready to work and knock out their homework.
It is ridiculous to have to mandate something as elemental to school as recess, but it’s also necessary. The United States as a nation has become intently focused on integrating jargon like “rigor” and “standardization” into the everyday and pushing kids to accomplish and do more. Schools spend time teaching to the test and doing whatever it takes to succeed as politicians and policy makers push for more “data driven” results. We don’t seem to trust what we can’t measure. Policymakers seem to have lost sight of the needs of children and some of the joys of school. The school day should include time to move; all kids deserve even the small advantages of recess.
Although Christie has deemed this bill “stupid,” I would argue that it’s not the policy, but the implementation of the policy that makes it seem ridiculous. All policies, no matter the size require someone to implement and maintain them. The obsession with standardization feels like we want to make a nation of children that are all the same. It feels like we’re creating a nation of robots. And we all know that robots don’t need recess.
Check out this blog on teaching and learning from The New York Times: Do Kids Need Recess? to read more about student reactions. Want to know more about the benefits of recess and physical activity for kids? Try this article from this New York Times parenting blog.