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PAPERWORK: Recess is more than fun and games

Lonny Cain
Lonny Cain

Maybe that’s what I should do.

I should start thinking of my wannabe daily groan on the treadmill as recess.

Play time. Fun time. Let off steam time.

Then I could look forward to it. And all those wonderful benefits.

And the benefits are wonderful, according to Debbie Rhea.

I’m not talking about the treadmill now. I’m talking about recess. And she’s kind of an expert on that subject.

In fact, she’s made it a mission to put recess back into our elementary schools.

I have to say her philosophy does seem rooted in common sense.

I can picture a great stand-up bit that paints the picture:

“Hey, I’m 8 years old. I like school. I love sitting for hours. Staying quiet. Not fidgeting or laughing. Paying attention. And not talking unless it’s allowed. Learning is such fun.”

Yeah. That sounds like a normal 8-year-old.

Well, it’s not, says Rhea, an associate dean of research for the Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

The university website notes she has been an educator for the past 37 years, starting her career in K-12 physical education and for the past 24 years has been training physical education teachers at the university level.

She has published many books and articles on physical activity and eating disorders among children and adolescents.

The stated mission of her newest research project, LiiNK, is to bridge the gap between academics and the social, emotional and healthy well-being of children through increased recess and character development.

She went to Finland for six weeks to help build her case.

In Finland she found young students spend fewer hours a week and per day in the classroom and a healthy chunk of the day is for recess.

“Kids are built to move,” she stressed in an article she wrote for Education Week.

“Having more time for unstructured outdoor play is like handing them a reset button.

“It not only helps to break up their day, but it also allows them to blow off steam, while giving them an opportunity to move and redirect their energy to something more meaningful once they return to the classroom.”

She points to other benefits proven by science.

“When a human sits for longer than about 20 minutes, the physiology of the brain and body changes.

“Gravity begins to pool blood into the hamstrings, robbing the brain of needed oxygen and glucose, or brain fuel. The brain essentially just falls asleep when we sit for too long.

“Moving and being active stimulates the neurons that fire in the brain. When you are sitting, those neurons don't fire.”

Rhea has taken her philosophy into the classroom … and school yards.

The foundation for her efforts is a project she founded and directs called LiiNK or Let’s Inspire Innovation ’N Kids.

This stems from a research project in two Fort Worth private schools that later expanded into five public schools in North Texas and one in Oklahoma.

The LiiNK program provided kindergarten and first-graders four 15-minute recess breaks, instead of just one.

And three times a week students were taught character building to stop bullying and build self-esteem.

Rhea says results were positive. Listening skills improved. Reading and math performance “significantly increased.”

Behaviors like fidgeting and talking declined as did bad behavior during recess.

The program has expanded to other schools and higher grade levels.

“We should not sacrifice recess time for classroom time, and neither should be used to discipline students,” she said.

“The more movement children have throughout the day, the better they will be with attentional focus, behavioral issues, and academic performance.

“As a country, we aren't moving — figuratively or literally. Kids' access to physical education has declined in the name of classroom time.

“For the most part, obesity rates throughout the United States continue to rise, and our country's Program for International Assessment, or PISA, test scores remain disappointingly flat.

“It's time we got moving, in every sense of the word.”

Ya know what? I think she's right.

In fact, I can think of many ways this also applies to our daily jobs and workplaces.

And to those of us who now are retired ... and staring at a dusty treadmill.

Say it again Dr. Rhea ... “It’s time we got moving.”

Our kids need it. We probably all need it.

Put a little more recess in your life.

  • LONNY CAIN, of Ottawa, is the former managing editor of The Times, now retired. Please email thoughts, comments or ideas to or mail care of The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.

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