Photo credit: Kirsten Luce for The New York Times
Not only is recess an integral part of the student’s day, its timing is also significant. A New York Times article discusses the benefits schools are observing as a result of scheduling recess before lunch- less plate waste and an increase in fruit, vegetable, milk and water consumption.
Kids often rush through their lunch in order to get outside, leaving much of their food uneaten. By having recess first, kids feel as if they have more time to eat, leading to less plate waste. Because of this, kids are less likely to become hungry or feel sick later in the day.
Schools have reported other benefits including fewer behavior problems, a more relaxed eating environment, and a reduced number of nurse visits. This is attributed to fewer headaches and stomachaches that result from physical activity directly after eating—“One child told school workers that he was happy he didn’t throw up anymore at recess.”
For some schools, recess first also means more time to teach. Typically, kids need a cool down period after recess in order to relax and refocus on school work. Since kids have a chance to unwind during lunch, teachers now have 10-15 minutes of extra classroom time.
While school staff report some logistical challenges that make them reluctant to switch—making sure kids wash their hands before lunch (which students should be doing anyways, whether it is before or after recess), distributing lunch cards while kids are coming in from recess rather than while they are sitting at their desks, and visits to lockers between recess and lunch- the pilot programs demonstrate many advantages for both students and teachers that appear to outweigh the challenges.
One important concern children’s health experts raise is that this switch may not work in many urban school districts where lower-income children come to school hungry. Programs that feed breakfast to all students are important to ensure kids are not ravenous by lunch time and can enjoy the benefits of waiting until after recess to eat.