An Upper West Side mom and education researcher is arguing that her son and his classmates need an active, outdoor recess — even when it’s very cold outside.
Anne Feighery said she noticed that her second-grade son was coming home grumpy every day from PS 166 this winter. Feighery, who is an education researcher and doctoral fellow at Columbia University’s Teachers College, told me she identified the reason for her son’s bad mood when she realized that he hadn’t been outside to play in days because PS 166 keeps students indoors for recess when the temperature drops below 40 degrees.
Feighery said the indoor recess PS 166 offered instead was inadequate to meet children’s needs. During a 6-week span when he didn’t go outside this winter, her 8-year-old son got hurt during indoor playtime as his fellow students’ pent-up energy turned indoor games violent, she said.
“We began talking about it with other friends who have children in other schools and a lot of people have this problem—it wasn’t unique to us,” Feighery said. (The debate is definitely not new: A Yonkers teacher complained in the New York Times in 2003 of “a new layer of fat” parents might find hanging off their children each spring due to skipped winter recesses.)
So she wrote a letter to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein that she posted on her blog, asking that the Department of Education exercise greater oversight on schools’ recess, and she launched a Facebook group to lobby for changes.
“Right now because it’s left up to each school, days and days go by and no one’s keeping track of it, there’s no accountability,” Feighery said. Individual principals decide when the weather is too cold for recess, a DOE spokesman confirmed.
Feighery told me recess is a “far-reaching” practice that can cut down on childhood obesity, help children learn through play, and improve student behavior. But schools face the challenge of fitting in time for recess in an already packed schedule. In the winter, they must also consider safety concerns about icy play areas and some parents’ worries that playing outside in the cold will make their children sick.
A recent study we wrote about before by the Alliance for Childhood reports that unstructured play in kindergarten makes for better-balanced adults who do not lag behind their more structured peers academically even though they spent less time studying in kindergarten. And New York State’s Healthy Schools Act, passed in 2007, requires schools to provide students in 8th grade and under with a recess period of up to 30 minutes a day when there is no physical education class.
A DOE spokesman declined to comment on the DOE’s position on recess, but back in February, commenting on a 2008 study by then-Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión’s office that found that about 90 percent of Bronx public schools don’t comply with the state’s physical activity requirement, a DOE spokeswoman said the department was working to improve physical education offerings.
“We share Borough President Carrión’s concerns, and that’s why we have worked hard over the past five years to improve physical education in New York City schools and give more students access to high quality programs,” DOE spokeswoman Marge Feinberg wrote to a Bronx community newspaper at the time.