Victory! Recess guaranteed for New Jersey elementary students

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Children’s right to play has finally been recognized in a new bill.

A hefty dose of common sense has infused the New Jersey school system and is bound to make many students very happy. A new bill, just signed into law by governor Phil Murphy, states that recess is now mandatory for all children between kindergarten and grade 5, and there are very few reasons that a school could take away that privilege.

The bill (S847) states that children must get at least 20 minutes of recess per day and that it should take place outside whenever possible. Only in cases of bullying, harassment, or intimidation can a child’s recess privilege be withdrawn, but even then s/he can only miss up to two times per week.

It’s all great news, but isn’t it unfortunate that such a bill needs to exist? That educators and politicians and parents need legal reminders of a child’s need to play? Indeed, children even have an official right to engage in play, as stated by the UN in its Convention on the Rights of a Child, but this is all too often disregarded by adults who think they can do a better job of prioritizing children’s activities. Sadly, their lives end up looking eerily like the existence of battery hens, confined and forced to produce in unnatural ways.

The American education system’s fixation on standardized tests has led to the shrinking and even removal of recess in many schools in order to maximize the amount of study time in the classroom; but as any parent should know, this goes against human nature. A child does not learn better or retain more information the longer s/he sits in a classroom; without the opportunity to run, yell, use the imagination, and burn off steam outdoors, the academic learning process becomes torturous.

It’s also physically unhealthy. Sixteen percent of U.S. kids are overweight, and many are at risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes; withholding opportunities for physical exercise could actually cause further harm.

Gov. Turner’s bill will improve this situation. It has been a long time coming, with nearly ten years of turmoil leading up to its signing. NewJersey.com says that former governor Chris Christie once called the proposed bill “crazy government run amok” and referred to it as “stupid,” which is why he vetoed it.

We’re a long way from the Scandinavian school model that is deeply rooted in the idea that “children belong in nature, and nature belongs in education.” But reinstating recess, even if it is only 20 minutes, and viewing it as a basic human right is at least a step in the right direction. Maybe someday we can get to the point where children are taken into nature as part of their learning process, where standardized tests are exposed as the useless charade they are, and kids are taught to love learning for its own sake. But until then, we’ll take this new bill quite happily. Thanks, Gov. Turner!



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