Short stuff: Health roundup
Think finding a school boasting high test scores or low
teacher-child ratios ensures your child will succeed in school? A
study released in the journal "Pediatrics" recommends parents add
one more criterion when looking for quality schools: at least 15
minutes of recess each day.
Researchers in New York found that children who have 15 or more
minutes of free play time behaved better in the classroom. Better
behavior equals improved learning, says Dr. Romina Barros, Albert
Einstein College of Medicine assistant professor.
"If the behavior is better, then students are better able to
attend to what the teacher is saying," Barros says. "With better
participation and attention, you retain more information."
Barros and her colleagues studied the amount of recess given to
more than 10,000 third-graders. They grouped children who had 15 or
more minutes of recess-a length of time based on national
recommendations-and then looked at how teachers rated overall
classroom behavior. Classes that had at least a 15-minute recess
behaved better than those who had no or minimal break.
Barros says the study supports the common-sense belief that no
one, especially children, can focus all day without some physical
activity. She said she was "overwhelmed about how many kids did not
get recess at all."
Thirty percent of children in the study received less than 15
minutes each day. Also, physical education classes for most of
these children were limited to once or twice per week. Nine percent
had no physical education at all.
The study found children from disadvantaged backgrounds are much
less likely to have enough recess time. Those children were more
likely to be black, come from families with lower incomes, live in
large cities and attend public schools.
Two factors likely impact this, Barros says. First, schools in
disadvantaged neighborhoods are hesitant to allow their students
outside for fear of exposing them to violence. Second, she said,
the No Child Left Behind Act added pressure on school districts to
devote more of the school day to academics.
In recent years, those pushing to save physical education and
free time have become more vocal, citing the surge in childhood
obesity. Barros says that since the study was published, interest
has been intense.
"People are now understanding that taking away recess does not
work," she says. "And parents are getting involved to say there
needs to be some reforms."
She hopes this interest can fuel further research into which
specific types of recess-indoor or outdoor, structured or free
play-benefit children's behavior and learning the most. Barros
believes parents, pediatricians and school systems should push to
include physical activity in the daily curriculum of every
"And it should not be taken away as punishment," she adds. "We
don't deny a child to go to math class as punishment; recess is not
something to be taken away either."
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