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Dancing on the grave of recess

Published October 5, 2007

Mari Supple exercises with her Ballast Point Elementary School kindergarten class Tuesday as they go over numbers and calendar days. Some teachers are meeting physical activity requirements by building physical movement into classroom instruction.
[Ross Mantle | Times]
[Ross Mantle | Times]
Elba Matthies of South Tampa dances with her Ballast Point Elementary kindergarten class Tuesday.

Recess is back. Or rather, "structured physical education."

Most Hillsborough schools - depending on the principal - pruned it from the school day over the past decade to focus on academics.

Teachers weren't allowed to take their kids outside at James Elementary, for instance. But this year, kids at the East Tampa school, working to raise a D score on the FCAT, get to go outside for physical activity.

It's the law.

We are fat and lazy - at least that's what research reveals.

So our governor enacted a law that took effect in August, requiring 30 minutes per day of physical activity in all Florida elementary schools.

But in a six-hour school day packed with reading, science and math, something's got to give. And most schools have already dropped recess to push academics. Just a few principals already met the 30-minute requirement.

The new law requires a weekly total of 150 minutes of structured physical education, which ranges from physical activities to health education. In Hillsborough schools, kids take physical education twice a week for 30 minutes. Teachers get the other three days.

At Fishhawk Creek Elementary, teachers fill the time with workout videos, structured outdoor play and work sheets on nutrition. Fifth-graders in Dennis Cagney's class at Hunter's Green are growing a winter crop of cabbage, carrots and snow peas, which they will stir fry after harvesting.

It meets the health education requirement for nutrition and also integrates math and science.

Still, the requirement irks Cagney, who has seen it come and go in his 31 years teaching.

"It's not what I consider traditional learning," he said. "It falls on us to try to wedge time into our schedule. It's frankly very difficult to do."

At Ballast Point, teachers integrate learning into action. Kids chant math facts while jogging in place.

They answer multiple choice questions by picking a classroom corner that corresponds with an answer: A, B, C or D, and running to the one they choose.

But it's not recess. Remember recess?

Four square and dodge ball, chasing each other around the playground and avoiding the imaginary sharks and alligators that hungrily lurked under the monkey bars.

Or just poking a stick in the dirt.

It was a time to blow off steam.

Most states have already implemented similar structured physical education requirements.

Americans have known we were lazy for a while.

President Eisenhower founded the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports half a century ago in response to research that showed European youth were in better shape than American youth.

"He wanted to ensure that we had a robust, healthy and fit youth population," said Melissa Johnson, director of the council.

Over the years, the council expanded its focus to include Americans of all ages and to target obesity.

The council tests schoolchildren each year across the nation.

It also offer ideas and schedules to record activities at

The council recommends 60 minutes of physical activity a day for children through P.E. and recess, Johnson says.

Not one at the expense of the other.

Elisabeth Dyer can be reached at or 813 226-3321.

[Last modified October 4, 2007, 07:57:35]

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