Let them play

Unstructured recreation at recess is just as important as organized exercise in PE

The Medford School District is on the right track by hiring physical education specialists to help comply with state requirements. But replacing free play time during scheduled recess is the wrong way to go about it.

The state in 2007 mandated 150 minutes per week of "instructional physical education" for students from kindergarten through fifth grade. If PE is an important part of a well-rounded curriculum — and there is plenty of evidence that it is — it deserves its own class period.

To be fair, the district is trying different approaches to satisfy the requirement. At Ruch Elementary School, students start the day with group aerobics to music — an approach that already is improving students' concentration and reducing disciplinary issues.

Julie Evans, the district's elementary education director, says the district is asking parents to give it some leeway as it introduces more PE into the school day.

That plea came in response to a group of Jacksonville Elementary parents and grandparents who came to Monday's School Board meeting to defend free play at recess. At Jacksonville, some recesses are being devoted to structured exercise, such as running and walking around the school's track, rather than the unstructured play children have enjoyed at recess for years.

Structured exercise has its place. Teaching young children how to exercise effectively to achieve and maintain fitness without injury, for example, is important.

But not every minute of every day needs to be structured. Children need to be able to let off steam, relax, and engage in play they direct themselves.

As one Jacksonville Elementary student asked the board, what good is playground equipment if no one can play on it?

Hiring teachers who have PE endorsements should take pressure off of classroom teachers who have been expected to incorporate PE into their schedules — and give them more time for planning and other professional duties. But to assign those new teachers to turn playground time into PE class does a disservice to them and to the students, who are deprived of much-needed down time.

By all means, encourage students to embrace physical fitness and exercise. But don't do it at the expense of recess.

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