Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Good Grief - 20-Minute lunches..and No Recess?

I was away on vacation for a week, and at lunch was talking to some lovely moms I met.  They were telling me how their kids (from different states) have only 20 minutes for lunch and no recess at their schools.  I have consulted with public and private schools in New York City, New Jersey and Connecticut all of whom provide for at least a 35 minute lunch (many had 45 minutes).  I was somewhat taken aback.

I realize there are scheduling and fiscal issues that restrict free time and free play, but would like to discuss below why a 20-minute lunch is actually a horrible, detrimental solution to time and number crunching. Here's why:

  1. Recess and lunch provide time to think about, absorb, sort and 'play' with material and information just learned in class. This manipulation of material is vital for learning.  Without breaks, our kids are going from one subject to another with no time allotted to let what they just learned 'simmer'.  This time to absorb, sort and relate information is essential for memory retention and for more effective cognitive functioning.  This down time also insures greater ability to attend to new sources of information.
  2. Recess and lunch provide opportunities for our kids to interact and develop, learn and sharpen their social skills.  Outside of school kids do interact with others, but usually they interact with kids they like or with whom they share common interests.  At lunch and recess there is a more diverse mixture of kids.  It is essential that kids learn how to interact and structure social time with others.  Cutting lunch down to 20 minutes only gives them time to eat.
  3. Lunch and recess provide more opportunities for kids to use and further develop large muscle coordination.  They physically engage larger muscle groups - something they cannot do in class.
  4. Teachers need down time as well.  We all want our kids' teachers refreshed and ready for the afternoon.  The sharper, more refreshed they are, the higher the probability that they will be able to address diverse needs with greater patience and creativity.

 Here is a fascinatig infographic( created by Online Degrees.org and found at http://www.onlinedegrees.org/the-importance-of-recess/)on recess- it's importance to students, as well as its use and misuse in schools:

  Infographic combines stats from dozens of studies on the value of play in the school day - by OnlineDegrees.org

What can we do as socially responsible adults:
  • Write to local and state representatives;
  • Write to and/or petition your school board representatives;
  • Bring this up at school and PTA meetings;
  • Write letters to editors and local newspapers.
What we can do for our kids at home:
  • Schedule play dates and encourage free play time;
  • When kids get home, allow for 'down' time before they attack homework;
  • Allow for short breaks as they complete homework;
  • Ask kids to tell you what they covered in their various classes (maybe at supper or while commuting to after-school programs/sports).  Try to help them integrate the material by asking questions or linking the material to books they've read or experiences they've encountered that relate to what they just covered in class.

While there are often benefits to run schools more like independent businesses, we cannot lose track of the fact that school's role is to produce educated, socially adjusted young adults who will be effective problem solvers of the next generation.  Our nation and local communities cannot afford to skimp on these commodities.


  1. Thought-provoking and important. Now I need to find out how much time my middle-school granddaughter gets for lunch.

  2. I hope it's more than 20 minutes...let me know!
    Thanks for the visit!

  3. Not to mention the impact a 20 minute lunch has on how kids look at food and how obesity has become such a huge problem with our kids! If they cram down school lunches loaded with carbs and fats, salts and sugar...then have to go right back to class without a way to use up some energy and stretch their bodies...it is no wonder kids have trouble sitting still and focusing on academics! I think the lack of recess time and shortened lunch hours are horrible and are having a huge impact on our kids health.

  4. Absolutely!
    I really wonder who thinks of these absurd, self-defeating "initiatives"!

  5. My 4th grader has 40 minutes for lunch and recess. Last year the principal made the kids go into their seats as they arrived in line, so they never got to sit with their friends. Glad to see that has changed this year.

  6. I am so happy to hear that not only is lunch-time less structured, but that your 4th grader actually has a lunch!

  7. Great to see the focus on playtime in school. Recess is such an important part of the school day and seems to be undervalued in recent years. I particularly enjoyed: "we cannot lose track of the fact that school's role is to produce educated, socially adjusted young adults who will be effective problem solvers of the next generation." It is often recess where kids are given more opportunities to develop into these socially adjusted, problem solvers. Glad I stumbled upon your blog!

  8. Downtime is so important in school, especially lunch, recess, passing time, etc. We know that people need time to absorb what they have just read, heard, or talked about and that they need time to be physically active and engaged in non-intellectural pursuits, too. But what do I know....I'm just a teacher!
    (Like satire? See my site: theteachingwhore.wordpress.com)

  9. I love your site and thanks for your comments here!

  10. This is ridiculous and makes me sad. Poor kids. :(

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