FF12: What happened to recess?

WICHITA, Kan (KWCH) The “LiiNk” Solution

Could the answer to better test scores, behavior, and attention be as simple as play?

“We've forgotten children need to be children,” says Dr. Debbie Rhea, TCU professor and founder of the LiiNK Project (Let’s inspire innovation ‘N kids).

FactFinder 12 traveled to Eagle Mountain Elementary in Fort Worth, Texas to see what happens when you give kids more time on the playground.

Kids at Eagle Mountain get four recesses a day. Each is 15 minutes. Many elementary students only receive one recess.

“This is the best classroom for them to be outside and explore and creatively think and we've taken it away from them,” says Rhea.

At Eagle Mountain research is currently underway on kindergarten and 1st grade classes.

The program will be expanded to more grades and schools next year.

The results, Rhea says, are clear.

“More retention, happier kids, less stressed more able to focus kids as a result of this program," she says.

Rhea says “off task” behaviors have dropped by 30 percent. She says students are better focused.

“What we're seeing is their writing skills are getting better and their math skills are getting better," she says.

Teachers, who were reluctant at first, back up those claims.
Kindergarten teacher Madeline Tittle talks about the old way of teaching more challenging subjects early in the day.

“We can't teach reading or math at the end of the day because the kids are too tired," she says. "Now it doesn't matter. We're able to have reading group at the end of the day and the kids are ready to learn."

Parents tell us they are also seeing a difference.

“The biggest difference is in her writing. My husband confused something that she wrote with my third grader,” says Amy Longspaugh whose daughter is in the program.

Longspaugh is also president of the PTA and says parents have shown nothing but support.

“No complaints from parents that I’ve heard at all," she says. "The only complaints we've heard are from parents of older children in the school they wish they had gone through the program because they're seeing the difference.”

Where did recess go?

Many parents we’ve talked to are curious why recess has been cut over the years.

“Competitiveness has brought us to where we are today,” says Rhea.

Rhea says increasing pressure to meet and grow expectations on state testing has pushed kids indoors.

She says districts have slowly taken away recess in favor of more time behind a desk. Rhea says that’s exactly what they shouldn’t do.

"I think a lot of districts calculate minutes in the classroom versus quality," she says.

She says the idea behind the LiiNK Project is to give districts data to prove that more play will equal better classroom performance.

“In general it's hard to get administrators to get their head around the thought that if you mean if I let them play more they're going to do better on a test. That's hard to get your head around," she says.

Wichita & Kansas next?

There’s an effort underway by some Wichita parents to bring back more recess.

The Wichita School Board has now formed a committee of parents and district staff to research the issue.

Amanda Watson is on that committee and also just visited Eagle Mountain in Texas.

“I thought it was a wonderful program,” says Watson.

She became involved after seeing her son’s kindergarten schedule.

“They have one 20 minute recess. Not only is it not developmentally appropriate, it's not fun," Watson says.

Watson hopes to eventually bring the LiiNK program to Wichita, but will focus on bringing more recess as early as next year.

“I know play has been decreasing over the years. I had no idea how drastically it had been decreased," she says.