At recess, the children shall lead
North School first-grader Gabriela Lenczewski learns to shoot a basketball Dec. 3 during the structured recess at the school. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 7, 2013 6:24AM
FRANKLIN PARK — Since mid October, first- and second-graders at North School in Franklin Park eat lunch then follow one of three fifth-graders to the playground.
There, the fifth graders lead the younger children in games such as soccer, kickball, basketball, running, hopscotch and others.
Adults keep an eye on things, but the fifth-graders keep things moving.
“We found there were many kids struggling with how to play, how to handle things appropriately at recess time,” said Elisabeth Betancourt, a social worker who oversaw the change from unstructured to structured recess.
At the start of the year, there was “a high level of need for ice packs and Band-Aids,” Betancourt added. “They weren’t sharing appropriately or using appropriate language.”
And, she said, the younger children had a hard time settling back down for afternoon classes.
Six weeks after the change, Betancourt said, the younger students already are doing better.
“We’ve seen a decrease in kids on the wall (like a time-out)” Betancourt said. “They transition better into afternoon classes. I feel like they are exercising more, engaging in games more and not fighting over special toys.”
Recess is a good thing for young school-age children, says Bob Murray, a professor at Ohio State University and pediatrician. Murray co-wrote the new policy statement on recess for the American Academy of Pediatrics, which comes out next year.
“It has much broader benefits than just physical,” Murray said. “A lot of development aspects; problem solving, creativity, social skills. A number of things we as an academy would hate to see lost if it becomes another adult-supervised activity.”
Academic studies show benefits to both structured and unstructured recess, Murray said. For example, while structured play tends to get all students active, unstructured recess offers more room for creativity and socialization.
“There’s a lot of concern among pediatric development specialists that we are over-structuring kids lives,” Murray said. “Also, if the emphasis is on traditional games and sports, it tends to favor kids who are inherently better at it.”