frequently asked questions & answers
How much PE and recess should my elementary school children receive?
Beginning with the 2017-2018 school year, all elementary school children in grades K-5 attending traditional public schools in the State of Florida are required to receive:
1. 150 minutes weekly of structured physical education (a qualifying session can be no shorter than 30 minutes in length) and,
2. At least 100 minutes weekly of unstructured free-play recess (there must be no less than 20 consecutive minutes per day).
Recess cannot be used to meet the PE mandate and PE cannot be used to meet the recess mandate.
My child attends a charter, and charter schools are public schools. Why are charter schools excluded from the recess mandate?
At the final hour, language was tacked on to the recess mandate limiting it to traditional public schools only. We do not support the charter exclusion and never have. In fact, the exclusion was never proposed or discussed with us at any point in our 3-year effort. It came as a complete shock when the larger confirming bill that contained the language was filed on the last day of session.
We will work on removing the charter school exclusion because we believe that ALL public elementary children are deserving of 20 minutes of daily recess. To do so, however, we will need assistance from parents whose children attend charter schools and from community leaders who are active in charter communities. Most of the recess moms at the helm of our effort have children who attend traditional public schools. Our legislators need to hear from parents disappointed that their children enrolled in charters were left behind if we hope to build support adequate to remove the exclusion. If you are a charter parent who disagrees with the exclusion, please reach out to your legislators and tell them so. You can find contact information for your state legislators here. Also, join our Facebook group and let us know you are willing to help in a meaningful way.
What do I do if my child is not getting the PE and recess they are required to receive?
Start with your child’s teacher. Tell the teacher that you are concerned because your child is not receiving the appropriate number of PE/recess minutes required by law and ask why. It may very well be that an honest mistake was made, and it is also highly likely that your child’s teacher doesn’t control the classroom schedule.
Next, reach out to your principal and ask that the situation be rectified promptly. If this doesn’t solve the problem, continue moving up the ladder in your district – to perhaps an area superintendent, and then to the superintendent and school board if necessary.
After you’ve exhausted these options, and if the issue still has not been resolved, you can report your school to the Florida Department of Education. Funding for schools is based on their certification that they have met all state mandates, including but not limited to the PE and recess mandates. If they aren’t following the law, they are doing a disservice to you and to your children. The Florida Department of Education’s Office of Healthy Schools may be able to help. You can find contact information for that office here.
YOU need to decide how far you want to go to resolve the issue. Is it worth it to you? It’s uncomfortable, we get it - but we are not the recess police, and we cannot police daily recess for every child in every classroom, nor do we want to. This wasn’t easy for us either. It takes guts to step outside of your comfort zone and take a stand. You can demand change in a firm but respectful way, but there comes a time when a parent needs to stop complaining to their friends and start being an advocate for their children.
What do I do if my child’s recess is being taken away for academic or punitive reasons?
The research is clear: withholding recess for academic or punitive reasons is ineffective and counterproductive. Children have a right to a break in the school day to decompress from the rigor and curriculum of the classroom. And yet, they sometimes lose access to recess because their class is too chatty, or they didn’t turn in their homework, or they don’t know their multiplication tables with appropriate automaticity, or, believe it or not, they can’t sit still.
Is your child losing recess regularly? If so, reach out to your child’s teacher, ask for clarification on the classroom policy and procedure, and offer alternatives. Discourage group punishments – it’s especially hard for a child who is meeting expectations to lose recess, or minutes of recess, because others in the classroom are not. Positive discipline is a practice that rewards good behavior instead of punishing bad behavior – so with recess, perhaps those meeting expectations could earn extra recess minutes while those not meeting expectations would have only the minimum 20 minutes required. Again, this is an issue best resolved with a teacher. It’s not easy to manage a classroom of 20+ eight year olds! Go to your principal if you must, but only when you have exhausted all avenues with your child’s teacher.
Consult your school/district policy manuals as well. We found that the vast majority of districts in Florida that had recess policies (albeit inadequate ones) already contained language that prohibited (or at least discouraged) the practice of withholding recess as punishment.
We aren’t advocating for zero consequences. Behavior and academic issues must be addressed. But, there are countless alternatives available to address these issues aside from withholding recess. You can find some specific suggestions and ideas here, here and here.
What do I do if my child’s school doesn’t have a playground?
You don’t need a playground in order to provide recess. Children learn through play. They can play anywhere! In fact, in inner-city and space-challenged schools, paved areas like parking lots are often painted to make unique and engaging play spaces. Schools can also utilize recess carts stocked with equipment the school already has, such as balls, jump ropes, sidewalk chalk, etc. We know of plenty of overcrowded schools where kids enjoy their recess in an empty field or bus loop. Schools need to provide children with nothing more than a safe place to run, play, socialize or rest. The children will take care of the rest.
If you want help building or repairing a playground at your school, visit our Supporters page. Many of the organizations listed have annual grants you can apply for that provide funding for playgrounds, play-related equipment and projects, and various other health-related initiatives.
What do I do if my child’s recess is not taking place outdoors?
Ideally, recess should take place outdoors. An outdoor recess represents a true break from the rigor and curriculum of the classroom. It gives the kids a chance to blow off some steam and enjoy some fresh air and sunshine (at least here in Florida!). However, the statute does not require outdoor recess. We did not want to micromanage; that was not the purpose of the recess mandate. Realistically, there are a variety of issues that schools deal with (not just weather, but field trips, a justification for additional recess minutes, behavior issues, space, overcrowding, safety concerns, etc.) that are unique to each school and that may present at any given time. We trust our teachers and our school administrators to make the day-to-day decisions that affect their schools and our children. However, there are always ways you can help remove barriers to outdoor play at your school: apply for grants, fundraise for equipment, organize a day where the school community can spruce up the campus, volunteer to be a recess monitor, and so on. Do what you can to help facilitate daily outdoor recess at your school.
What do I do if my child is being bullied during recess?
Report it – IMMEDIATELY. The sooner you do, the sooner it stops.
Bullying can happen on the playground and at recess just as it can happen in the classroom, in the hallways, and in the lunchroom. Your school district should already have bullying prevention policies in place and those guidelines should be used to address bullying, or to discourage it in the first place. That said, withholding a brief respite in the day for children simply because bullying MIGHT occur is not an appropriate policy. If a child is actually doing the bullying on the playground, the child can and should be removed from the area promptly. The bullying should also be addressed in other ways, among them, via detention, suspension, and if appropriate, expulsion.
For more information on bullying, go here and here.
To help foster an environment of inclusion at your school, consider adding a Buddy Bench. We came across this idea during our recess effort and loved it!
What about all the time my child will be spending outside under the hot sun?
Great news! The larger conforming bill that contained the recess mandate also included language that allows Florida students to bring sunscreen to school and apply it as needed without a doctor’s note or prescription.
Implementing an age-appropriate sun safety program at your school is a great idea. We found these and can’t wait to pick one and try it out at our kids’ schools: United States Environmental Protection Agency: The Sunwise School Program designed for kindergarten through eighth-grade and Ray and the Sunbeatables™: A Sun Safety Curriculum for preschoolers, kindergarteners and first-grade students developed by The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Also, the grants we’ve mentioned in answers to other FAQ’s often apply to sunshades.