Elementary school students sometimes rush through their lunch and even throw some food away to get to the fun outside.
To improve student learning and decrease the amount of wasted food, Pinewood Intermediate School in the Mohonasen Central School District is changing the routine. Students will have recess first for 10 minutes and then come inside to eat lunch for the rest of the 30-minute period.
The change came about through the recommendation of the school’s health and wellness safety committee. Special education teacher Andrea Conover brought this idea to school officials’ attention when she was looking to do a research project as part of her alternate evaluation. They studied the issue and brought it to the health and wellness committee, which endorsed the idea. A similar program in Montana schools has shown several benefits, according to Pinewood Assistant Principal Deborah Kavanaugh.
“Students seem to be more motivated to get through their work and be productive so they can get to recess on time,” she said.
Also, this change will help curb disciplinary problems. Sometimes, Kavanaugh said, it is difficult for students to make the transition from running around outside to calmly sitting in a classroom. Little disputes from the playground can spill over and take away from learning, she said.
“The time allows things to settle down a little bit before they return,” she said.
There are also nutritional benefits of the program as students also tend to throw out less food. A study in Montana found that students wasted anywhere from 27 percent to 40 percent less food when recess comes first. They also consumed as much as 35 percent more calcium and protein.
“The kids ate more nutritional lunches because they weren’t rushing to get to recess. They ate a more well-rounded lunch instead of throwing it away to get to recess,” Kavanaugh said.
In addition, she said, running around helps stimulate their metabolism. “Some of the studies have shown that kids have better consumption because their metabolism is getting geared up through the physical exercise.”
When students run around after lunch, they can work up an appetite again and go back to class hungry. When they go back to class on a full stomach, they can focus better on learning, she said.
The Montana schools also noticed there were fewer incidents of students getting sick and going to the nurse’s office from running around on a full stomach.
Kavanaugh hopes that the change will improve instruction and overall well-being.
Not a lot of schools in this area do recess before lunch, she noted. An elementary school in Bethlehem has some classes that have recess before lunch, but not the whole school. It is more of a scheduling issue.
Kavanaugh said the district will be putting in some hand sanitation stations so children will be able to clean their hands before they eat their lunch.
This new recess policy is just part of a focus on wellness at the school. Last year, the school ran a fit club, which allowed students to walk in the halls with faculty after school or participate in a structured activity. The school also had an after-school yoga class.
The school also has set up a running course on the playground — seven circuits is one mile.