School recess debate returns to Florida

Children at recess

State legislators are wondering if kids need more recess. FIU professors say yes.

The Florida House and Senate is renewing the debate in Tallahassee this legislative session with bills that would mandate at least 100 minutes of free play a week for children in Kindergarten through fifth grade.

Children need free time to help develop a sense of creativity and to further their understanding of school lessons, parents and educators say. Currently, schools often have wide leeway in deciding how much free time students receive – if any.

In Miami-Dade County, children in preschool and in elementary school receive one hour of unstructured play time a week. On days when recess is not scheduled, some principals or teachers have the option to give children 15- to 20-minute brain breaks.

“Kids like to make believe and free time lets them do this,” said Charmaine DeFrancesco, associate professor of physical education, sports and fitness. “Too much structure bounds their creativeness.”

It’s that strong sense of creativity that leads children to be inspired by lessons and to develop sorely needed critical thinking skills, adds Andrea Adelman, an early childhood education instructor who champions unstructured learning time.

“Educators aren’t necessarily feeding children everything they need to know,” Adelman said. “Children need various opportunities for exploration or to examine things.”

Setting up part of the classroom as a space for dramatic play, Adelman said, allows children to come up with their own scenarios that help them apply content learned in class.

“When you have the interest of the students, they will learn more,” she said. “This is children learning of their own volition.”

Beyond parsing the deeper meanings of a lesson, unstructured learning time affords students the chance to develop or improve their social skills.

“Kids today can become isolated because they don’t engage with one another, they engage with things on their phone,” DeFrancesco said. “That trend is getting younger and younger.”