Fighting to make recess a reality

The ever-increasing pressure to cram more instructional time into the school day means students across the country are missing out on recess. And some parents aren’t taking the elimination of unstructured outdoor play during the school day sitting down.

Playworld recently caught up with Amy Narvaez, a mom of two and recess advocate. She is the co-founder of “Recess for all Florida Students”, a group of parents working together to save recess. Narvaez shared her insights and experiences on fighting for increased recess in Florida schools.

Q: How did you get involved in the fight for recess?

A: Getting involved grew out of my personal experience working to ensure my daughters had recess. It first started when my daughters’ school decreased recess time to 20 minutes – two 10-minute sessions. The 10 minutes also included the time it took the kindergartners to walk outside and back inside the building! In reality, the kids were only getting around six minutes of recess. My youngest daughter had just started kindergarten and she was not excited for school, complaining the day was too long. I noticed she wasn’t making any friends. At the time, I didn’t know there was research on the benefits of recess. When I started looking into it and found a wealth of information on the subject, I took it to the principal and school board. I figured there was no way they could turn me down once they saw all the supporting research, but they did, claiming thier hands were tied by state mandates. It was incredibly disheartening to present research showcasing the benefits of play and be turned down anyway.

Q: How did the group “Recess for all Florida Students” come to life?

A: The group began to form when I found out that another friend was having the same issues with her children. In October 2014, we petitioned the school board for 20 minutes of recess, beginning the journey to get recess back in our children’s schools. We went to the school board and spoke, asking for them to put a recess policy in place. Unfortunately, their decision was almost unanimous – all but one voting no. Board members explained that there wasn’t enough time for recess and that it wasn’t something that could be instituted across all schools in the district, since some needed more reading or math time than others and those subjects take precedent over recess time.

We weren’t deterred. I contacted my state representative, Rene Plasencia, who decided to investigate the recess policies. When he came up with the same answers that we did, he decided to personally help us. Representative Plasencia filed our recess bill in December 2015 and instructed us to gather other parents across the state, helping bring our group to fruition. We expanded our Facebook page to include all Florida students in all districts and became, “Recess for all Florida Students”, and numerous parents joined. A lot of parents are passionate about recess for their children.

Q: Does your daughters have more recess now? Did you see a change in your youngest daughter when she had longer recess periods vs. shortened recess periods?

A: Thankfully, she does have 20 minutes of daily recess now. Since having recess, my daughter’s behavior completely changed. Instead of disliking school and complaining, she began making friends and developing a personality.

Q: Is the fight over now that your daughters have recess in their schools?

A: Some of the moms in our group still don’t have recess for their children. A school just a mile down the road only has recess on Fridays. We ultimately decided to keep fighting until all Florida students have recess since all children benefit from and deserve recess during the school day.

Q: What is your ultimate goal for this group?

A: The goal is to get a daily 20-minute recess policy passed for the state of Florida. We don’t want other parents to have to go through this same fight 10 years down the road. We’d like to see recess eventually become a requirement – just like math and science.

Q: Do other parents seek out your advice? What do you tell them?

A: A lot of people, especially Florida residents, see the media coverage on our group and ask for advice. We often have people requesting the letters we sent to our own legislators. People want to fight for recess but often don’t know where to start. It’s nice to have resources like template letters to direct people towards. Our progress has inspired a lot of other parents to contact their local school board and legislators, advocating for recess.

I tell other parents to be persistent and not always take information at face value. It’s important to do your own research and find the facts. If you’re not willing to advocate for your own children and their classmates, who will? I also think parents should band together to take on these issues since a lot of people are likely fighting the same battle.