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Structured Recess Boosts Students' Physical Activity—a Little

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Parents and teachers often find themselves fighting to preserve recess, and physicians say it's a critical part of students' daily life.

But can these short play breaks, already deemed invaluable, be made even more so with a little more organized activity?

Perhaps. New research shows that children whose recess time is accompanied by coaches directing their play are a little more active than kids with comparatively unstructured recess.

The research released Tuesday about Playworks, a nonprofit that provides recess coaches to low-income schools, shows that children at schools with Playworks coaches spend a little more time engaged in vigorous physical activity than peers at schools without these coaches.

To determine this, kids were fitted with accelerometers, which measure physical activity. At Playworks schools, students spent an average of 14 percent of recess being very active. Students at other schools spent 10 percent of recess being as active.

Schools pay Playworks up to $25,000 a year—using federal Title I money for disadvantaged students—for a full-time recess coach. Many of the coaches are Americorps volunteers. The organization has full-time coaches in 367 schools in 22 cities and is in the midst of expanding.

The physical activity findings, by researchers at Mathematica Policy Institute and the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities at Stanford University, are part of a larger study. Would the increase in physical activity be worth the price at your school, considering the childhood obesity epidemic and the fact that many children live relatively sedentary lives?

The study also found that at Playworks schools, sports equipment, such as bases for ball games, cones, and jump ropes were more likely to be available at recess than at schools without recess coaches.

Other results from the study, made public last year, showed that the Playworks approach can smooth the transition between recess and class time—giving teachers more time to spend on instruction—and can cut back on bullying in the schoolyard. Teachers in participating schools also reported that their students felt safer and more included at recess, compared with those at schools without the program.

Follow Rules for Engagement on Twitter @Rulz4Engagement and Education Week Staff Writer Nirvi Shah on Twitter @NirviShah.

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