Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hot topic: Recess before lunch

An SF K Files reader suggested this topic:
I know some SF schools already have recess before lunch, but others don't and I'm wondering why. Would like to know which do and if the ones that don't have discussed the idea and rejected it for any particular reason. The NY Times just ran an article on this topic:

Play, then eat: Shift may bring gains to school

Can something as simple as the timing of recess make a difference in a child’s health and behavior?

Some experts think it can, and now some schools are rescheduling recess — sending students out to play before they sit down for lunch. The switch appears to have led to some surprising changes in both cafeteria and classroom.

Schools that have tried it report that when children play before lunch, there is less food waste and higher consumption of milk, fruit and vegetables. And some teachers say there are fewer behavior problems.

“Kids are calmer after they’ve had recess first,” said Janet Sinkewicz, principal of Sharon Elementary School in Robbinsville, N.J., which made the change last fall. “They feel like they have more time to eat and they don’t have to rush.”

One recent weekday at Sharon, I watched as gaggles of second graders chased one another around the playground and climbed on monkey bars. When the whistle blew, the bustling playground emptied almost instantly, and the children lined up to drop off their coats and mittens and file quietly into the cafeteria for lunch.

“All the wiggles are out,” Ms. Sinkewicz said.

Read the full NY Times story


  1. I love this idea & tried to get it started at our elementary school, without much success. Are there any schools in SFUSD doing this? (I've heard CACS does this).

  2. It totally makes sense to me. Every time I ask my kindergartner why he didn't eat his lunch he says he was in too much of a hurry to get outside for recess.

    Why wasn't your school receptive 12:48?

  3. Seems like a no brainer to me.

  4. Bessie Carmichael does this.

  5. How would parents suggest approaching a principal with this idea? It seems like such a great way to approach recess.

  6. Miraloma does it as well.

  7. Not to be a wet blanket here, but there is something that everyone at the school needs to understand before embarking on a "recess first" format. The Point of Sale system, which does away with the use of lunch cards, is currently being installed in middle and high schools and is coming soon to all elementary schools too.

    At the elementary level, students "pay" for their lunch by touching their picture on a screen (the computer knows who gets a free lunch and whose online account should be debited if the student is on paid status). The pictures come up by class, so it is essential to speedy operation that the kids come through the lunch line WITH THEIR CLASS. This means that between play time and cafeteria time, there has to be a brief period when the students line up by class and then proceed in an orderly fashion to the cafeteria, passing through the line to the checkout still with their classmates.

    If the students do not come through the line with their class, it slows the whole line down to the point where the kids don't have time to eat. That is, of course, a possibility even if the line moves properly, if it is a large school with many kids eating in the caf, and if only 20 minutes are allocated for lunch. Even with the POS and an orderly line, you have to figure on it taking about 2-3 seconds for each student to touch their picture and get out of the way; that means at best about 20-30 students per minute getting through the line. For those at the end of a 200-student line, there may only be 10 minutes or less left to eat. And that is with the students entering the caf in orderly fashion class by class; if the kids all just pour in from the yard in random order, there is no way that they can all get through the line in 20 minutes and still have time to eat.

    So, if you think that recess first would work for your school, by all means go for it. Just keep in mind that once your school gets the POS, someone will have to be responsible for making sure that the students line up by classroom to go into the caf. It would be a good idea to start doing that even before you get the POS, so the students understand proper procedure right from the start. Good luck!

  8. 3:53, I was under the impression that kids enter the cafeteria with their classmates. Do they just all go in at random at your school? Just curious to know if this is really an issue with regard to having recess first. Any teachers out there want to weigh in?

  9. I see Dana's point, and wonder how the schools that do recess before lunch manage passing out lunch cards to K kids. You can't expect to give them their cards and have them hold on to them for an entire recess, so they'd have to be passed out at the end. If the school can manage that, it seems like they'd be able to figure out the POS system. I really hope someone who is doing this now will share how they handle it.

  10. If I ask my Kindergartner why she hasn't eaten much of her lunch (which happens often), she always says that she didn't have time (she brings her lunch from home). I would love to see a switch like this!

    If two schools in the district can do it, then they all can.

  11. Rosa Parks does recess before lunch.

  12. K students often say they "don't have enough time to eat," even when they have 15-20 minutes dedicated to sitting with their food at the table. It's a lot easier than telling their parents that they'd rather talk with friends, or that they don't like the food that's being packed for them, or that they ate someone else's food instead. Parents don't like to hear it, but your children are not always honest with you, especially if they think it's going to hurt your feelings or get them into trouble.

  13. If two schools in the district can do it, then they all can.

    Would that it were true. My school is working towards this; some grade levels have switched over but not all.


    *School sites vary in size and space. Not every school has a dedicated cafeteria that is always available for eating.

    *Noon duty/available adults on campus. If no one is able to help bring classes in from recess to lunch, then teachers need to do it, and teachers deserve an uninterrupted break.

    *Time management issues. If the cafeteria has staggered lunches, everyone needs to be fed well before the cafeteria staff must leave. At an early start school, this could mean that kids are eating lunch at 10:00.

    Please consider these factors, among others. It is too easy to simplify issues.

    At my school, K takes a longer eating period because the teachers take them to the cafeteria and then stay with them for awhile. It's a fun time, and a good time to develop social skills and niceties - not to mention a great opportunity to talk about nutrition!

  14. Lafayette has recess first. Seems to work great.

  15. Starr KIng has recess first too. we still get the "I didn't have time to eat" excuse but at least it's not because they're rushing to go outside and play. Some schools (Friends?) have quiet lunches. I'll bet that would help. As for POS, how many kids per class take the school lunch? I think most of my kid's class bring their lunches. K was different. School lunch was a novelty but that wore off.

  16. As for POS, how many kids per class take the school lunch? I think most of my kid's class bring their lunches. K was different. School lunch was a novelty but that wore off.

    All of my K students eat school lunch - likely the case at many schools where most or all students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

    Again, please consider all the issues. Some families cannot afford for school lunch to be a "novelty".

  17. Alvarado does recess first.

  18. There are about 21,700 elementary students, of whom about 15,300 eat the school lunch on any given day (about 70%) so it is certainly more than a "novelty" for most students.

  19. Sunnyside just switched to recess before lunch this year. It has made a difference.