in Houston, Texas
HISD weighs importance of free play time for elementary students
Tuesday, Mar 06, 2012, 05:23PM CST
By Mike Cronin

Kids attending Houston schools may soon get more daily play time, though one district trustee predicted a final decision was at least a month away.

Principals, officials and board members for the Houston Independent School District are considering a proposal that urges all elementary schools to offer students recess.

That might sound strange to those of older generations for whom recess was a staple of the elementary school day.

But not every HISD elementary school provides pupils with recess, Superintendent Terry Grier told district trustees during a meeting Monday afternoon.

“Some schools just do (physical education classes) and not recess,” Grier said.

The way school administrators structure a student’s time during those periods determines whether it’s phys-ed or recess.

“Phys-ed is a teacher-led class that follows a curriculum,” said Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency in Austin. “For example, an instructor might teach basketball fundamentals to elementary kids or track-and-field skills to the students.”

Recess, on the other hand, “is a time for kids to burn off some of their energy,” she said. “They can do whatever they want on the playground, as long as it’s safe. It’s not teacher-directed. It’s students just playing.”

Even a trip to the library could be considered recess, if that was permissible by the teacher, she said.

The proposal states that “recess should not be viewed as a reward but a necessary educational support component for all children.”

This New York Times Magazine story explores that thinking more, highlighting recess as one salve for the pressure today’s kindergartners experience:

The solution, according to (an Alliance for Childhood report), is a return to ample doses of “unstructured play” in kindergarten. If kids are allowed to develop at their own paces, they will be happier and healthier and less stressed out. And there will still be plenty of time later on to learn how to read.

The new HISD policy likely won’t be voted on until the April board meeting, at the earliest, board President Mike Lunceford said in a phone interview today with Texas Watchdog.

After yesterday’s discussion, trustees asked HISD staff to allow principals to review the new proposal – and to clarify how much time a school should allot for recess, Lunceford said.

“We want to make sure that there’s so much time for both physical education and recess,” Lunceford said.

The proposal also would ensure that elementary schools do not replace physical education with recess.

Texas law states that all elementary schools require pupils to have 30 minutes of “moderate to physical activity” daily throughout the academic year.

Grier told trustees that the district administration “recommends that each elementary school has physical education and also recommends that each elementary school has recess.”

Contact Mike Cronin at or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelccronin or @texaswatchdog.

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