Research shows that younger students need recess and regular physical activity. They perform better in the classroom when they take a break from learning to release pent-up energy.
They also have fewer disciplinary problems, learning teamwork and developing cognitive and social skills as they play. A 2009 study of 11,000 8- and 9-year-olds by the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that those who had more than 15 minutes of recess a day behaved better in the classroom.
However, only nine states require recess for elementary-school children. A bill in the New Jersey Legislature would add the Garden State to the list, requiring schools to set aside 20 minutes of recess a day from kindergarten through fifth grade. The measure would also bar schools from withholding recess as punishment.
Sponsored by State Sen. Shirley Turner (D., Mercer), the bill was passed unanimously by the Senate Education Committee last month. The full Legislature should follow suit.
School officials generally support recess. But they hesitate to extend the school day - usually a matter for labor negotiations - or hire more staff. If all else fails, though, a few minutes can be shaved from each period to give children a break.
Turner said she was motivated partly by concerns about the childhood obesity epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 17 percent of American children and adolescents are obese.
Encouraging recess and physical activity is in keeping with the worthy goals of first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! Active Schools campaign. Funded by a $50 million, five-year investment by Nike, the program calls for students to engage in a total of 60 minutes of physical activity a day before, during, and after school. Currently, only one in three children is active on a daily basis.
Restoring recess and getting kids to run and play can only improve their mental and physical health.