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How to Let Kids Be Kids

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by Andrea Atkins

Freeze tag is starting to get frozen out of the school yard: Forty percent of American schools have either eliminated a daily recess period or are considering doing away with it, according to a survey of 15,000 elementary school districts by the American Association for the Child's Right to Play.

"With more schools needing to post test scores in newspapers, principals and administrators are searching wildly to find additional time to prepare kids for those tests," says Rhonda Clements, Ed.D., an education professor at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY, who conducted the survey. The irony is that making kids sit in class is probably the least effective way to raise test scores, says Clements. "You want to keep children alert and attentive to task," she explains. "It's impossible to do this if a child is sitting at a desk all day. We call exercise 'nourishing a sluggish brain.' "

Exercise is also a key antidote to the widespread problem of childhood obesity. And not only does recess help children's waistlines, Clements adds, but it also teaches them important life skills such as decision making and problem solving.

After surveying 26,000 PTA presidents nationwide, the PTA found that most parents want recess for their kids, says James Martinez, a national PTA spokesperson. "We're optimistic that schools will start turning this around," he adds. The National PTA and Cartoon Network have joined forces to make sure recess doesn't disappear. In 2006, the two groups launched Rescuing Recess, a program aimed at preserving the exercise break. To learn more, visit pta.org.

Originally published on July 16, 2008

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