Chances are that some of your most memorable moments of elementary school were outside. Back in the day, lunchtime lasted just as long as all the other periods and we had at least one short recess period, and maybe two. It’s still that way in some places, but in others - lunch and recess haven't been competing for time as successfully as other academic subjects.
That might be about to change thanks to a bill working its way through the state legislature that would require all schools to have 50 minutes of recess per day from K through 5th grade, and it needs to be unstructured meaning that kids get to make their own choices for physical activity. This week, the House Education Committee approved House Bill 2082 sponsored by Jesus Rubalcava and 14 co-sponsoors. In the committee hearing Rep. Rubalcava explained that his experience as a teacher convinces him that kids benefit from physical activity during the school day.
Rep. Rubalcava and his co-sponsors are on to something. There's solid scientific evidence that they're right. A few years ago the CDC published a review of published studies and concluded that physical activity during the school day improves cognitive skills and attitudes, enhances concentration and attention, and improves classroom behavior. Maybe it’s time to think about lunch and recess as a catalyst for improving overall academic achievement and classroom behavior. Talk about the best of both worlds!
There was some debate in the Committee hearing this week from members wondering about the evidence base relating physical activity to academic achievement. Fortunately the public health community is front and center with the data about the evidence in the CDC's report entitled The Association Between School-based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance.
P.S. Local school districts make decisions every year about how and when to incorporate physical activity into their academic day. Public health folks can help shape those decisions by working with schools and districts using the CDC's School Health Index.