First you play, then you eat

Elementary school plans to move kids' recess to before lunchtime

April 29, 2007|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

Seven-year-old Ava Dennis, a first-grader at Hollifield Station Elementary School, likes to jump-rope or climb on the playground equipment during recess. But sometimes all that exercise makes her stomach hurt. "We eat and then we run around, and we don't feel so good after that," she said.

Her mother, Donna Dennis, a nutrition consultant, recommended a solution that Principal Glenn Heisey will implement at the Ellicott City school in August: Students will have recess first, then lunch.

Marion Miller, administrative director for Howard County elementary schools, said some schools already schedule recess before lunch for a few grades, but Hollifield will be the only school that is making the change for the entire student body and making it for health reasons.

"I think that Glenn Heisey is the first one to strategically do this," she said. "It certainly makes sense based on the research that he's presented."

If the switch works out, Miller said, she will be interested to see whether other schools follow suit. "I think we have to wait and see. I certainly encouraged him to try it and share his findings with us," she said.

Dennis said she looked into the idea of switching recess and lunch because her daughters complained that they didn't feel like playing after they ate. "They did complain about it, and it always drove me crazy. I finally said this doesn't make sense," she said. "I don't know any adult who runs or works out immediately after they eat. It just kind of makes sense to do it in the other order."

She found studies supporting the idea of the switch. "There were studies showing that kids ate better, were better able to concentrate in class," she said. "There were so many reasons why this would make sense."

Dennis presented the idea to Heisey a few weeks ago. He did some research, too, and found several reports showing that kids eat more of their lunch and have fewer trips to the nurse if recess takes place before the meal.

He expects to see those benefits at Hollifield Station. "We want them to eat more of their lunch and not throw it away and then be hungry later," he said.

Heisey also said the schedule switch will leave more time for academics, because kids who come in from recess under the current schedule need time to cool down and get drinks of water before returning to work.

Heisey first presented the idea to the school's instructional team leaders. "Nobody could find any reason not to do it," he said. One concern was that children would need to wash their hands before they eat, but the cafeteria is equipped with hand-cleaning stations that use waterless gel sanitizer, he said.

The change was described in a newsletter that went home to parents Monday. Heisey said he was expecting comments from parents, but several days after the newsletter went home, nobody had called about it.

The newsletter included links to several studies, including one from the U.S. Department of Education, which studied a school in Illinois and concluded that "if recess and lunch time are 30 minutes, elementary children in grades 1-3 will waste less food if recess is before lunch rather than after lunch."

"There's no reason not to do it," said Dennis. "It's such a simple change."

Students have another reason for liking the plan. Recess now is a privilege that can be taken away if students misbehave during lunch. Dennis believes that recess is important to children and should not be taken away. Her older daughter, Madeline, 9, who is in fourth grade at Hollifield, agrees.

"If recess was before lunch, they couldn't take away lunchtime or recess," Madeline said.

Madeline said she usually plays ball with her friends after lunch, but "I kind of feel full and don't feel like playing much."

The switch, she said, will be good because "You exercise and you get tired, and then you could eat and then drink to cool off."

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