As Chesterfield County Public Schools prepare schedules for the coming year, school officials are specifically encouraging elementary schools to change daily recess from a singular 30-minute period to two blocks of 15 or 20 minutes.

Currently, 17 of Chesterfield’s 40 elementary schools have multiple recess hours for at least one or more grade levels. Additional recess times are between 15 and 20 minutes per block, according to a presentation from the school system during Tuesday’s school board business session.

According to a school spokesperson.

Under a state law passed in the 2018 General Assembly session, elementary school recess is counted as instructional time.

“Sometimes recess can be contrasted with instructional time, like ‘we can’t have recess because we have a certain number of minutes of math, language arts and science’, but there’s enough time to do more recess and still have enough teaching time,” Mary Dunne Stewart, a Chesterfield County parent and president and CEO of Greater Richmond Fit4Kids, said in an interview.

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“Recess should be seen as something that reinforces and supports instructional time, not takes it away.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recess improves a child’s attention, concentration, and memory and reduces disruptive behaviors in the classroom. Recess also allows students to enhance their social and emotional development because recess teaches students to share and negotiate, according to the CDC.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, in a 2013 policy statement, stated that “recess is a necessary break in the day to optimize a child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development.”

During the pandemic, pediatric service providers in Virginia reported a 93% drop in a child’s daily minutes of physical exercise, according to a December 2020 survey conducted by the Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. .

School board member Kathryn Haines said during Tuesday’s business session that before COVID began, Robious Elementary School began increasing recess for all K-5 students.

“I would love to know how they did it and share those best practices,” Haines said.

Chesterfield school officials made a similar presentation regarding the recess expansion in August. Two months prior, in June, the School Health Advisory Board had recommended that the school district consider potentially expanding daily recess.

Despite Tuesday’s similar presentation, Justine Blincoe, director of policy for Greater Richmond Fit4Kids, is glad to see the conversation is back. However, she had hoped the school system would make a stronger effort to extend recess from a total of 30 minutes to 40 minutes.

Due to the pandemic, students have been more sedentary and experienced more trauma, Blincoe said, adding that unstructured physical activity such as recess can help offset these in recent years.

Recess isn’t just about getting out and running for 30 minutes, said Misti Mueller, a former Chesterfield County college physical education and health teacher who is now an assistant professor at the Virginia School of Education. Commonwealth University. It’s a time for children to play with their peers and laugh in a positive environment and improve their mental well-being, she said.

“I think the most important message to take away is that we have to educate the whole child and that goes through the physical, the mental, the emotional, the social. [being], and part of that includes trying to play. And recess is the perfect time to provide that opportunity to play,” Mueller said.

Chesterfield School officials also encourage increased outdoor learning where possible; having planned brain and movement breaks during school hours; and designated wellness days such as Wellness Wednesdays, where students and staff wear movement apparel and participate in fitness and health activities.

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