Recess Before Lunch: Breaking with Tradition

As an educator, I'm the first to admit that getting things to change inside the education system is like turning a huge cruise ship around in a small harbor. Possible but not probable and it requires lots of maneuvering. However, a few principals across the nation are doing just that and bringing a long standing school tradition to an end, they are advocating recess before lunch.

In doing so they are finding some amazing results: kids eat more, waste less food, return to class calmer, behave better and as a result instructional time is increased.

It seems to be working for middle schools and elementary schools alike. “We’ve been doing it for three years, and it has made all the difference in the world, especially in the afternoon classes,” said Kim Anderson, principal of Central School, a grade 5 to 8 school in Whitefish, Montana. “They used to come in [from recess] hot, sweaty, and fired up. It would take teachers five or six minutes to get them back to a teachable mode. We’ve reclaimed five to ten minutes of instruction time every day.”

Two elementary schools that switched recess and lunch also reported healthier, happier students. Post-recess ailments were among the reasons North Ranch Elementary School in Scottsdale, Arizona, changed its schedule. “We got the idea [of recess before lunch] from the school nurse who had been to a conference,” said principal Dr. Sarah Hartley. “It gets very hot here, and the kids were eating and then playing in the heat. The nurse was reporting a lot of headaches and stomachaches after lunch.”

North Ranch was the first elementary school in its district to make the change; now 16 out of 31 elementary schools have switched.

Katie Bark, a dietician who is a member of the Montana Team Nutrition Program, said her group has been researching the affects of holding recess before lunch for several years. The project is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture; one of the directives from the USDA is for schools to develop a healthy nutritional environment.

The team developed some guidelines for schools interested in changing their schedules, called Recess Before Lunch Policy: Kids Play and then Eat!

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