Recess Before Lunch

Yesterday’s New York Times had a piece Play, Then Eat: Shift May Bring Gains at School about the importance of having recess before lunch. I couldn’t help but wonder, once again, why something so commonsensical requires experts to weigh in. And, even more, I couldn’t help but wonder why so many kids don’t get recess at all.

Can something as simple as the timing of recess make a difference in a child’s health and behavior?

Some experts think it can, and now some schools are rescheduling recess — sending students out to play before they sit down for lunch. The switch appears to have led to some surprising changes in both cafeteria and classroom.

Schools that have tried it report that when children play before lunch, there is less food waste and higher consumption of milk, fruit and vegetables. And some teachers say there are fewer behavior problems.

“Kids are calmer after they’ve had recess first,” said Janet Sinkewicz, principal of Sharon Elementary School in Robbinsville, N.J., which made the change last fall. “They feel like they have more time to eat and they don’t have to rush.”

One recent weekday at Sharon, I watched as gaggles of second graders chased one another around the playground and climbed on monkey bars. When the whistle blew, the bustling playground emptied almost instantly, and the children lined up to drop off their coats and mittens and file quietly into the cafeteria for lunch.

“All the wiggles are out,” Ms. Sinkewicz said.

Read the entire article here.

6 thoughts on “Recess Before Lunch

  1. Very encouraging. Not to be a curmudgeon, but this is the part that bothers me:

    “About nine years ago, the school nurse suggested the change, and the school conducted a pilot study, tracking food waste and visits to the nurse along with anecdotal reports on student behavior.”

    I agree with you, Sara. Everything public school does is such a BIG DEAL. One little recess change and it requires an initiative, a task force, meetings, reports, follow ups, community input (window dressing), red tape. I realize this task force was undertaken during the fat years but public school needs more common sense and less fat. Because right now, we just cannot afford it.


  2. Funny that it took so much fussing to make this change…although wow, what a great idea to have ’em eat before lunch! In our town, unfortunately, had the schools made a switch like this without some sort of “backup” (like what’s described here), you probably would have parents calling to complain. Why, I don’t know. But the likely scenario is that while 80% wouldn’t care, the squeaky-wheel 20% would see a golden opportunity to gripe. If only we could harness that squeaky-wheel energy into something that would actually help kids!


  3. For my school is boils down to a scheduling thing. We have almost 1,300 students. Our 5th graders don’t eat until 1:30pm as it is. Right now we have one group eating while another is at recess, then they trade places.


  4. Read this idiotic proposal from a principal who states that recess should not be free time. And read the delightful blog from the irate parent.

    I love Lenore’s writing. She is so irreverent. Just to demonstrate there must be a silent majority, her blog really hits a nerve and she typically gets about 120 responses.


  5. My boys attended an elementary school that made this switch and both of my boys HATED recess before lunch. They wanted the extra time for recess, not for eating, and I saw their point. Why not have 2 shorter recess breaks (morning and afternoon) and then make lunch separate? That’s what I would recommend.


  6. It is interesting that “some experts” have decided that the timing of recess make a difference in a child’s health and behaviour. One of the disadvantages of recess before lunch (which is not mentioned in any of the articles) is that the children do not turn off the ‘recess’ play mode when they enter the school to eat. Another disadvantage noted by teachers in a schools where children eat their lunches in the classroom, is it takes children longer to settle and eat after being outside playing. Teachers returning to class, note some children are still eating, while others are wanting to visit or go to the washroom. The children are not ready for work as the delineation is less defined. Also, children do not have time to wash properly before eating, and are less likely to use the washroom as they are in a hurry to eat. Another disadvantage is that children who have forgotten their lunch will not ask for someone to share with them. Before, the teacher was able to see what the children were eating and ensure that all students had food. Finally, noonhour sports teams really suffer as the students miss out on the lunch almost completely and require “teaching time” to eat their lunches. I for one have not seen the benefits noted in the few published articles.


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