The recess at Lake Harriet Community School lower campus in Minneapolis is long enough for girls to make believe they’re fairies, for a second-grader to spring into back bends and for a group of boys to cross home plate again and again in a pickup kickball game.
Their free time typically lasts 20 minutes, the suggested recess length in Minneapolis. But some members of the Minneapolis Public Schools community are aiming to stretch that.
A proposal in front of the school board would lengthen the 20-minute recess at schools like Lake Harriet lower campus to 30 minutes to give kids more time off from classroom rigor. Supporters point to the importance of brain breaks and social time.
Some school board members and district officials have jumped on board with the request, and the board will vote on bumping up recess time on June 13. Superintendent Ed Graff is supportive, to a point.
“I would love to be the superintendent who says, ‘We just adopted a 30-minute recess policy,’ ” he said after a recent board meeting.
But Graff’s enthusiasm comes with caution. He wants to make sure that more recess is feasible and flexible districtwide. If schools staffed recess with teachers, district numbers show it would cost nearly $2 million to add to recess time in elementary and middle schools — though schools may figure out other options to adapt to the longer recess.
Expensive play time?
Already, principals have warned that more recess could result in higher costs and organizational nightmares.
In some cases, schools would have to add staff or revamp entire school schedules. Other schools say lengthened recess wouldn’t jibe with their school buildings.
“We’ve got brilliant educational leaders in our schools that can figure out if that’s what meets the needs of their school,” at-large board member Kim Ellison said at a May 9 board meeting.
She said she would present an amendment that urges 30 minutes of recess throughout the day, instead of a solid block of time.
A matter of equity
Elementary school students in Minneapolis Public Schools get anywhere from 15 to 35 minutes to play, and most have at least 20 minutes of recess.
Some recess advocates say that the time should be consistent across the district’s schools.
Ira Jourdain, who represents southwest Minneapolis, used increased recess as part of his campaign for school board last year, and is a champion of a continuous stretch of playtime.
“It is a racial equity issue,” Jourdain said at the meeting. “There should be no reason why my children get 30 minutes but children over here at North Side do not.”
Graff has set an expectation that elementary schools have a 20-minute recess, and district data shows that some schools budget more or less time than that.
Data from a recent board meeting shows that among schools with 30 minutes of recess or a range of recess with a 30-minute maximum, most are in south Minneapolis.
The board would vote to increase the length of recess for elementary students and middle schoolers who attend kindergarten through eighth-grade school buildings.
Research shows that recess is important for kids’ social and emotional skills. Scaling back playground time could hurt in-class achievement, the American Academy of Pediatrics said in 2013.
A Change.org petition that launched last year asked for 30 minutes of “unstructured, safe, supervised recess time” for every Minneapolis kindergartner through eighth-grader, followed by a 30-minute lunch.
It’s since racked up more than 3,000 signatures. An update on the page a couple weeks ago called for consecutive recess, saying “kids lose out on their recess time when the minutes are split up throughout the day.”
Heather Rein, who lives in southwest Minneapolis’ Lynnhurst neighborhood, is the force behind this petition.
Recess became a priority when one of her children would return from school distraught because of her short recess.
“She would come home literally in tears a couple times a week and in her 6-year-old language, would say things like, ‘Mommy, don’t the grown-ups know that we need more time?’ ” Rein said.
Back at Lake Harriet Lower, the kids circled each other during their kickball game, chanting phrases like, “We want a pitcher, not a belly-itcher!”
Their principal Merry Tilleson watched from afar. She said she hopes her school can keep the autonomy to figure out how to make 30 minutes of recess work.
“It is a good, real, intentional time,” she said.