New Recess Rules Kick In

Fair Haven students took a break after a literacy lesson to play a round of “Slamwich”—as schools across the city adjusted to new rules requiring daily recess for all students in grades K-6.

The new rules come due to a state law that requires all public school kids in grades pre-K to 5 to receive 20 minutes of recess every day, starting this school year. In response to the law, and under pressure from parent activists, the New Haven school district directed all schools to implement new recess plans effective Jan. 21. New Haven voluntarily expanded the requirement to include the 6th grade as well.

A survey last year showed that the amount of recess varied widely from school to school, according to Sue Weisselberg, the city’s wraparound services chief. Some kids played every day. Others didn’t. How much they got to play depended on the teacher, grade level, and school. Many schools offered regular recess to kids only in grades K to 2.

Weisselberg said the district has received recess plans from each of its 31 elementary and middle schools pledging to implement the new rules. She said a joint parent-teacher-administrator recess committee is currently reviewing the plans and will follow up with any that have incomplete information.

Schools faced different logistical hurdles to try to find the time and place for kids to play.

At Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy, the school district fixed an outside fence to accommodate a new plan to let kids play in a large field.

Wexler/Grant School Principal Sabrina Breland said it was hard to find the time for a daily recess block.

“We had to be really creative, given that we have to get in a two-and-a-half-hour literacy block and an hour math block” in addition to gym and art,” she said. “We stole a little time from here and there.” The school cut the lunch wave from 30 to 25 minutes. And it cut hallway passing time from three minutes to one or one and a half, she said. Breland said her school made the changes at the beginning of the school year.

She highlighted another challenge: Students who weren’t used to unstructured play didn’t know how do to so harmoniously. “We had a lot of conflicts” on the playground, she said.

Learning how to work well with others is a key skill kids develop through recess, according to Marcy Guddemi, an early childhood expert who serves as executive director of the Gesell Institute of Child Development on Prospect Hill. Students who get daily recess “have higher test scores and less behavioral problems in the classroom,” Guddemi said. Click here to read more about the importance of recess.

Gina Ross, a parent at Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School, said her 6th-grade son is indeed getting a daily chance to play, and enjoying it. “It gives him downtime. That rest period in the middle of the day to kind of relax before he goes back to his studies. They need that. They need that little break in between the drilling,” she said.

Slamwich and Dominoes

Fair Haven School, the city’s largest K-8 school, historically offered recess for all students in grades K to 2, but not necessarily for older students. The school empowered its teachers to decide on their own how to fit in the 20 minutes of recess. The changes took effect after winter break.

Emily Marino, who teaches bilingual students in grades 3 and 4, said she has been bringing her students outside whenever possible. When the Independent visited her class one chilly morning last week, the temperature was in the high teens—too cold to bring them outside.

“We’re going to have recess in five minutes,” she announced in Spanish to her class, which was nearing the end of a new, 100-minute bilingual literacy block.

“Inside or outside?” a student asked.

“Inside,” she replied.

“Awww,” came a chorus of disappointment.

The disappointment faded as students began the 20-minute recess block.

A group of girls dug into a big box of construction paper to start drawing projects.

Javier Elicier spread out on the floor with a puzzle.

Aolanis Gago recruited some friends to play dominoes with her. At first glance, the game appeared to involve parallel play: Each child worked by his or herself to build fortresses out of the white tiles. Then a shaky table turned the activity into a test of kids’ skills at getting along: When someone leaned on the table, someone else’s castle would fall down, prompting students to knock down each other’s formations for revenge. No one seemed to mind the destructive swipes, and the tone stayed friendly.

On the carpet, a group of girls (pictured at the top of this story) played the card game Slamwich, which Marino had brought in from home. The game involves slapping stacks of cards once a “sandwich” of fillings appears in the middle—a test of reflexes and pattern recognition, as well as of managing emotions in a fast-paced game.

Natielys Velazquez (at right in photo with Estrella Granda), who’s in the 4th grade, opted to draw a floral pattern with a pencil. She said she likes recess because “you can talk to your friends.”

She enlisted a friend, Gerismary Valencia, to draw a horse for her. Gerismary, who just moved to New Haven from Puerto Rico, said she has horses back home. She said she doesn’t know how, but she has become an expert in drawing them.

Marino, the teacher, declared herself a firm believer in recess.

“I’ve been pushing for recess for a while,” she said, because kids “need time to move around” and express themselves. She said her students are still getting used to the new routine. “They’re still so excited that they get recess” that the anticipation can be distracting. But “they’re happier” after recess, she noted. And in the long term, she said, “I think it will help them to focus better” in class.

6th Grade Gets “Brain Break”

Kristine Anderson’s 6th grade students arrived at her classroom at 11:20 a.m., out of breath. They had just walked up several flights of stairs. When they got into class, they sat right in their seats. Anderson issued a gentle reminder: “You guys have recess now.”

The 6th-graders didn’t scramble around like their younger counterparts had. One group of boys and girls stayed put and chatted, occasionally erupting in giggles. A group of girls from Ballet Haven caught up and helped each other with homework.

Alanis Declet, Daniela Martinez and Essence Luzincourt checked out a brewing science experiment they had placed on the windowsill. The “eco column”—a joint terrarium and aquarium built in two 2-liter soda bottles—aims to study the affect of acid rain on an ecosystem, the students explained. They checked it out and announced a discovery: One of the mosquito fish had become pregnant.

Karla Guzman pulled her chair close to her friend Evelyn Encalada (pictured a few minutes later, at the beginning of math class) to chat.

Karla said she enjoys the new “brain break.” It’s a chance to “stop doing work and play a little bit, and then go back to work.”

Past stories on Fair Haven School:
Boys Find A Place On The Stage
Bilingual Ed Overhaul Under Way
New Havener Of The Year
Common Core Hits Fair Haven
Firefighters Respond To The Turkey Call
VH1 Helps 15th City School Start Tooting
Mr. Shen & Ms. Benicio Hit The Books
Maneva & Co. Take On The ‘Burbs
Aekrama & Ali Learn The Drill
Fair Haven Makes Room For Newest Students
From Burundi, A Heart Beats On
As Death Nears, She Passes Down The Dance

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posted by: SLP on February 6, 2014  12:49pm

Hurray! Is there corresponding policy that prevents teachers from using recess as an incentive that can be taken away as punishment for everyday, minor infractions? My kids were lucky enough to attend a school where recess was not unheard of—but some adults were quick to take it away for ironically counterproductive reasons (too much energy and talking at lunch, for example!).

posted by: Teachergal on February 7, 2014  1:28pm

Recess is a wonderful way to build social skills which is what children desperately need. Many of our New Haven students do not have the opportunity for free play outside in their neighborhoods which makes recess even more important. Usually, the kids that loose recess are the ones who need it the most, so teachers need to do everything they can to support them throughout the day so they do get their outdoor time. But if a student does miss an occasional recess it might make them think a bit more about their behaviors in the classroom. Bad behavior cannot be ignored. It gives bad messages to the student who misbehaves as well as the students who follow the rules. Glad to hear the kiss are getting recess the rich kids in private and suburban public schools have been getting it for years. And while I’m on the subject, don’t forget the seventh and eighth graders, they also need a break during the day.

posted by: bryan@playworks! on February 7, 2014  3:21pm

What a great article!  I’m a parent of a preschool aged child and I am hoping that schools begin to see the value of recess and positive play before my little one enters the school systems.  To be very upfront, I also work for Playworks in MA. which is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing great recess to every child through in school professional development and direct service.  We have a great blog post about the very issue the first commentator spoke of which unfortunately is something we see a lot of.

posted by: Melissa Bailey on February 10, 2014  6:13pm

New Haven’s wellness policy says schools “should not withhold recess for disciplinary reasons.”

State law doesn’t mandate that; it just orders local school boards to come up with a policy regarding whether recess can be revoked as a form of discipline.