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At Hilton Elementary School in Yakima County, children run and laugh on the playground right before their lunch period. Schools are adopting the policy of Recess Before Lunch, or RBL, in Washington and other states. According to Hilton Principal Doug Burge, “We just finished doing it for the fifth year. It has been very positive for our school. I don’t believe we would ever go back to students taking their lunch recess after eating.” According to a recent report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, increasing children's physical activity through recess can have long term effects.
Burge says that the change came about on the recommendation of school nurses. “We talked it over and thought it would benefit our kids and also help their eating habits,” he says. “Our situation is unique because our students eat in their classrooms. We had to develop a schedule that allowed the switch to RBL. Our food service program and staff support this lunch program and have worked hard to make it a success.”
According to Action for Healthy Kids children who eat lunch after recess waste less of their food and beverages, which benefits custodial budgets. Central Washington University researchers, Ethan Bergman and colleagures, reported that plate waste was reduced from 41% to 27% when recess was scheduled before lunch. School leaders need less time for discipline because students behave better on the playground, especially if schools use low cost approaches to designate activity zones on the playground. Also, children are ready to learn right after lunch, so teachers do not lose instructional time.
Burge sees clear benefits of the program for students. “We believe it is better for our students to go run off some steam, exercise, etc. and then come in and eat. Our kids eat more and have a better appetite after recess. Kids are more relaxed and take their time to eat.” Other schools making the transition to RBL report that children drink more milk and eat more of the nutritious food offered to them. An active half hour of recess can provide half of a child’s daily physical activity needs, preventing obesity and chronic disease.
Coordinated School Health in Washington State Recess Recommendations
Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction: Analysis of Wellness Policies and Procedures from Washington State School Districts: Recess Before Lunch
Playworks' Why Play Matters
Public Health - Seattle & King County: School Nutrition and Physical Activity Policies
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Report: Increasing Physical Activity Through Recess
WA Action for Healthy Kids' Recess Before Lunch Fact Sheet
Featured: June 2013
School officials, physical education teachers, parents