Dec. 31, 2012 — The American Academy of Pediatrics has two New Year’s resolutions for schools: Keep the school nurse and don’t drop recess.
The recommendations are part of two new policy statements published in Pediatrics.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says there’s a growing trend in schools to take away recess and use the time to teach subjects.
“There is pressure on schools to increase performance on standardized testing, and a lot of times teachers are using withdrawal of recess as a punishment for children,” says Robert Murray, MD, a co-author of the recess policy statement and a professor at the Ohio State University in Columbus.
“Recess is an important part of the school day that should not be cast off without thinking,” he says.
It is not a reward, he says. Recess is necessary and important to help children learn and grow.
“No matter what kind of recess, whether indoors or outdoors, structured or unstructured, kids need a safe place to play,” Murray says. “And the equipment should be good and people who supervise should be well-trained.”
Health Benefits of Recess
The benefits of recess are many. “The child who gets regular breaks in the day performs better cognitively in the classroom and gets a lot of social and emotional benefits,” he says. “Recess provides kids with the chance to be creative and play with others just for the fun of it.”
It doesn’t have to be a full hour or half-hour either, he says. Recess can come in shorter bursts of play time sprinkled throughout the school day. “We need to carve out time that belongs to a child.”
Recess is not the same as physical education or gym either, says the policy statement’s co-author Catherine Ramstetter, PhD. She is a health educator at the Christ College of Nursing and Health Sciences in Cincinnati.
“Recess promotes a healthy learning environment. Importantly, recess should be used as a complement to physical education classes, not a substitute,” she says. “It would be ideal if every school had deep pockets to build huge, amazing playgrounds. But every kid will play differently anyway, and every school doesn’t have the resources. We need to protect recess as it benefits the whole child.”
Key Role for School Doctor
A second AAP policy statement wants schools to assign important roles for a school doctor and school nurse.
School doctors serve school districts as advisors, consultants, volunteers, team doctors, or school district doctors.
But there’s no single set of rules for states and school districts about what a school doctor should do. The new policy statement wants all school districts to have a doctor to oversee health services.
What’s more, school doctors should help coordinate policy and practice plans for kids with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and asthma. The AAP policy statement says kids spend about seven hours a day,180 days a year, in school. During that time they may only see their doctor once a year.