According to a recent article appearing in Newsday, Long Island, entitled, “More Time for Play,” the Patchogue-Medford School District has extended recess by twenty minutes in order to educate the “whole child.” Some would argue that this is a waste of time; others might say that recess and gym can be eliminated altogether. Since Common Core has been implemented and there is a push for higher standards in our schools, doesn’t this change in the district’s schedule contradict everything that we hear? It does, but contrary to popular thought, movement is not a nicety that should be looked at as a reward. The connection between body movement and brain activity is powerful, and both children and adults need to physically move to keep the learning channels open and active. A lazy body is a lazy mind. More districts should be following the mind, brain, and education studies which clearly show that the brain develops like a muscle and requires challenging exercises as well as rest to allow for it to strengthen. Taking a “brain break” by moving or meditating helps the brain function better. If children are chronically stressed, they will struggle with memory, recall, concentration, and overall general cognitive skills. Training the brain to function at optimal levels of performance requires time to absorb information and process it. This is why a combination of physical exercise and sleep are important for a healthy brain.
The Pat-Med School District should be commended for trying to make a change that responds to children’s needs rather than the adults looking from the outside in. This initiative, however, would be even more productive if the twenty minutes were broken up into smaller increments and spread throughout the day. The latest research states that we should work with concentrated effort, single-focused, with no multi-tasking, for twenty-five minutes, and then get up and take a break for five minutes. This is called the Pomodoro Technique, and much has been written about the benefits of rotating work with brief rest periods. Exercise and conscious breathing, such as mindfulness meditation, stimulate hormones to help the brain work effectively.
Pat-Med is progressive, and almost defiant, in their disdain for the Common Core by showing other districts that they are sick of all the demands being placed on teachers, parents, and students. Let’s see if other districts follow suit. Certainly, we have seen the negative effects of reducing or eliminating recess, gym, and the arts in our schools, and pushing children beyond their capabilities. It just does not improve academic outcomes.
(High Five Literacy and Academic Coaching is located in Plainview, Long Island.)
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