Outdoor Recess And Why It Matters

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By Kate Goldberg

Our outstanding schools are—no question—the best that Great Neck has to offer to its residents. I’m thankful as a parent and proud as a taxpaying resident to be part of it. But, like many parents, I have also had some issues with the school system in the four years I have been dealing with it. Without losing the big picture and without forgetting how many more good experiences I have had, I would like to share a point I strongly disagree with about our current school district policy, and hope it will be changed soon.

It took me time to realize how many days during school year that my children don’t have outdoor recess. Our school children generally stay inside if the chill factor is 32 degrees Fahrenheit. But, any chance of rain, strong wind or wet ground could be a reason for indoor recess. It could be several months in a row that children don’t go outside to play. These are winter months with short days and no time after school to go to the playground. But, I was really shocked to discover that the children spent their indoor recess in classrooms. Our schools are overcrowded and there’s no space for active indoor recess. Children 5 and 8 years old have recess not in a gym, not in a multipurpose room, not even in a library, but in the same classroom.

As a mother of two very energetic elementary-age boys, I know firsthand how important it is for them to have vigorous activity in the fresh air daily—even in cold weather. And, my personal observation is supported by many scientific researchers and shared by the Department of Education. Many studies prove that kids benefit from playing outdoor, even in cold weather. It boosts their immune system and refreshes their brains. Keeping children inside when the temperature is below 32 degrees is not consistent with current Health Department or Department of Education recommendations. In fact, the Health Department strongly encourages school principals to maintain outdoor play on the vast majority of winter days.

It’s a matter of common sense to let children adapt to the local climate in order for them to grow healthy and strong. Schools in Canada and northern Europe let their children play outside throughout the winter months. In Alaska, students play outdoors until the temperature falls below minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit. In the Chicago area, it’s 0 degrees.

Many schools in New York State choose other policies than Great Neck does. In Upstate New York there are schools that offer snow shoeing or skiing during recess—and children obviously survive.

Boys, especially, suffer from the sitting environment in schools, which results in a lower-academic outcome and discipline problems. Without burning energy, they can’t stay concentrated through the long school day.

Snow should not be a reason to cancel outdoor recess. Snow offers an energy relief and rich sensory experience, as well as so many play opportunities. I would even suggest bringing in artificial snow if we don’t have it, so kids could ski, go snowshoeing, ice sliding and sledding, build snow forts and snowmen, dig a snow tunnel or throw snowballs at a target—not at a recess teacher, of course.

I tried to implement outdoor winter recess at E.M. Baker through the Shared Decision Making committee, and I am extremely thankful to the school principal, Ms. Fougner, and the entire committee for being willing to give it a trial. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the needed 30 participants in the third grade. The end of the year hassles and the fearsome temperatures of 0 degrees may have contributed to low the participation.

Great Neck schools are comprised of a diverse community with families coming from different backgrounds, different climate exposures and different expectations on this issue. From the viewpoint of somebody who spent half her life in Russia and the other half in Germany before landing in Great Neck, it’s a matter of health and an important opportunity to teach kids how to deal with local weather, regardless of what it brings. For some parents, it may be something dangerous they want to shield their children from: It can be slippery or wet or cold. For some parents, it may be an inconvenience they don’t want to deal with, as proper clothing is obviously a necessity for outdoor recess in winter months. It’s a challenge for the school to organize it and an annoyance for recess teachers to freeze outside. There are many reasons to avoid outdoor recess.

But, it is in the best interest of children—and it’s recommended by health professionals, educational professionals and it’s common sense. And, besides, my children love it and it’s their rest time.

Great Neck Public Schools are setting high-educational standards and are making every effort to increase children’s well-being and academic achievements. Please do one more thing and give every schoolchild an option to spend their recess time being active outdoors. If some parents want to opt out, let them. But, it’s your duty and obligation to promote a healthy lifestyle for our children.

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