Ana Veciana-Suarez

Recess in school is a no brainer for kids, educators

Remember that old proverb: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy?

It was true centuries ago, and it’s still true today. In fact, that saying is more important in the hurly-burly 21st century than it ever was. A group of Miami moms understands that.

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They’re pushing for more recess in school after a bill to mandate recess failed in the Florida Legislature this past session. Apparently our esteemed lawmakers, who know squat about education and probably less about children, think a first-grader can sit still for six hours without a break. We shouldn’t have expected different, of course. These are some of the very same people who, in 2015, ended the annual session three days early, leaving dozens of major bills dead.

In an online petition on Change.org, these parents are demanding "a daily scheduled time for all students in Pre-kindergarten through grade 5 to have at least 20 consecutive minutes of supervised, safe, and unstructured free-play recess per day, 5 days per week, and preferably outdoors (weather permitting)."

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The group is almost at its 7,500 signature goal. In the meantime, the bludgeoning of young children with inappropriate academic expectations continues.

The Miami effort is not new. In the past five years, other school districts and states have reviewed or tried to revive mandatory recess, with mixed results. More than a year ago I wrote about the salubrious effects of classroom breaks when parents in the Orlando area wanted to re-claim recess for children. And recently a New Jersey state senator introduced a bill to require 20 minutes of daily recess for elementary school students, only to see it veto by Gov. Chris Christie as "a stupid bill." (Considering Christie’s substantial girth, he could use a little outdoor play, don’t you think?)

At a time when childhood obesity rates are climbing and our children are spending more sedentary hours in front of a screen, recess has become the redheaded stepchild of school systems, pushed aside for high stakes standardized testing. This move is shortsighted. And wrongheaded. And alarming. In a 2013 policy paper by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the doctors called recess "a fundamental component" for the development of students.

When children are allowed to decide who and how to spend their time, they’re exposed to the kind of lessons that can be learned only through unstructured, unplanned play. Adults seem to have forgotten this.

When I was in the thick of raising my now-adult children, Robert Fulghum published a priceless little book full of common-sense wisdom, “All I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” I didn’t attend kindergarten, but much of what I know about social interactions I learned by the monkey bars.

Here, then, are my 10 playground lessons:

Try new equipment. You might like the slide better than the swings.

Not everybody wants to be your friend — and that’s OK.

Don’t be shy. Take the first step.

Drink lots of water.

Wear closed-toe shoes. The world will inevitably step on your toes.

Don’t want until the last minute to use the bathroom.

Every once in a while it’s good to play by yourself.

Scraped knees are part of everyday life. You gotta fall to get up again.

Don’t make fun of others.

And #10: Sometimes you must hang upside down to see the world right.

Ana Veciana-Suarez: 305-376-3633, aveciana@miamiherald.com, @AnaVeciana

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