Recess Is a Hot Topic in Southwest Metro Schools

A parent-driven petition asks for additional recess time for Eden Prairie elementary students.
Two Eden Lake Elementary School students take a well-deserved break during recess.

Ahh...recess—students cherish it; teachers look forward to it and, recently, some Eden Prairie parents began to question it—specifically, are students in the district receiving enough recess time?

A petition to provide students with 30 minutes of daily outdoor recess was circulated last year by Eden Prairie Community Advocates for Student Health. It was posted on in May 2016. “We had an overwhelming response,” says parent Jennie Pinnow, adding that the first few weeks netted 630 signatures and 200 comments. “We really wanted to show there is widespread support of this issue,” parent Mary McMullen says. “If we don’t take this issue on, who will?”

Eden Prairie parents aren’t alone in taking a closer look at recess times. Pinnow points to school districts in Dallas, Portland and Seattle, which like those in Minnesota, are reexamining the length of time granted to students for free play.

Eden Prairie elementary schools offer 15-20 minutes of recess per day, 20 minutes for lunch and physical education class once every four cycle days. “The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly supports 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day,” the petition noted.

According to Jaclyn Swords, director of communications and community relations, the Eden Prairie school district employs four strategies related to physical activity: physical education classes, recess, integrated classroom/instructional physical activity and extracurricular options. “Teachers make accommodations based on classrooms,” she says.

The petition, with about 750 signatures, was delivered to Eden Prairie School Superintendent Curt Tryggestad and the Eden Prairie school board members in September. As part of its Designing Pathways initiative, the school district is examining its academic programming and long-term vision for the next decade. In Phase I, the district reviewed recommendations which included the petition. According to Swords, the district conducted a survey to gauge the community’s stance on recess time allotment. Results noted that 61 percent of respondents found the current time to be “about right,” 34 percent “too little” and 5 percent “too much.”

Swords says increasing recess time would mean reducing instructional time or lengthening the school day, which a majority of respondents didn’t support. Armed with the feedback, Tryggestad recommended that no action be taken at this time to increase recess times. McMullen says the group was disappointed and is seeking other avenues to pursue.

Neighboring school districts tailor recess and physical movement to their students’ needs. While there isn’t a direct board policy for Eastern Carver County School District 112, Brett Johnson, director of community relations, says the eight elementary schools typically have a 15-20-minute recess before lunch, which also lasts between 15-20 minutes. Students attend physical education classes four out of five days, translating to two hours a week, he says. Johnson says teachers are encouraged to use Brain Breaks, which allow teachers and students to engage in activities, deemed suitable by the teacher, to help students take a break and prepare to refocus on academic instruction.

“The whole idea that kids are sitting for five hours—that’s just not how our classrooms work,” Johnson says. More than four years ago, personalized learning began in earnest in the district. It allows for instruction to rely more heavily on students’ classroom needs. “[It] meets kids where they’re at with their learning,” Johnson says, explaining that the system organically includes more physical movement in and between classrooms.

Waconia Public Schools has three elementary schools, including Southview Elementary. Principal Khuzana DeVaan says students are allotted 40 minutes for lunch and recess. “We really believe children need to pace their eating,” she says. Two gym classes are rotated through a five-day cycle, equating to about 90 minutes a cycle. Body Breaks are also incorporated into the day. “We want an active learning environment,” DeVaan says.

DeVaan says schools are also incorporating “active” furniture, meaning couches, bean bag chairs, stability balls, stand up tables and comfy rugs are used to encourage students to move away from their desks and into other learning venues. “People need to move all day long, and we recognize that,” DeVaan says. “It’s not as simple as recess. It’s a vision.”

Eden Prairie School District’s Designing Pathways Phase I: Final Report is available at the website here.