Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=178239
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No recess at school? Make room for activity elsewhere

by Danielle Cadet
Feb 10, 2011


Breakfast on the table? Check. Get the kids on the bus? Check. Do they have their homework? Check. Make sure they’re getting enough exercise? Umm…

There are so many things on a parent’s checklist that everything can’t always get done.

“A lot of parents have a lot of demands in their own lives,” said Sheldon Cotler, professor of psychology at DePaul University. “Monitoring physical activity is a question of do parents and can parents?”

With an increasing number of public schools opting to take recess out of the school day, keeping track of a child’s physical activity has become more important.

“Schools are focusing on academics and getting testing scores,” said Andrea Bossenmeyer, head of sales and marketing for the Peaceful Playgrounds Campaign, a national movement to restore recess in public schools. “This means parents must stress the importance of physical activity.”

According to the Healthy Schools Campaign, only 37 percent of Chicago public schools carve out time in the school day for recess and physical education.

With a vast majority of Chicago elementary school students lacking a period of unstructured free exercise, how can parents make sure their children are receiving adequate physical activity?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children receive about an hour of exercise each day. Its websiteoffers suggestions on how parents can ensure their children are maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle.

“As a parent, you can help shape your child's attitudes and behaviors toward physical activity,” according to the site. “Throughout their lives, encourage young people to be physically active for one hour or more each day, with activities ranging from informal, active play to organized sports.”

The site goes on to discuss different types of exercise, including aerobic activity and muscle and bone strengthening activities and how to incorporate fun, vigorous games into the day after school.

Worried the cold weather may confine your little one to the couch, television or computer?

The CDC also offers suggestions on how to promote indoor activities like dance, indoor swimming or even mall walking.

But some say parents should take action beyond their front door and into the schools, encouraging administrators to implement activity into the school day. Bossenmeyer says parents should make a habit of attending local and district school board meetings to ensure their voices are heard.

“Use your voice,” Bossenmeyer said. “The No. 1 thing to do is go and speak to the principal, gather research to take in to prove it is vital for kids to have recess.”
 

Guillermo Gomez, vice president of urban affairs for the Healthy Schools Campaign, coordinates training for parents who want to become volunteer recess monitors. He says parents have the power to make things happen in schools if they really want it to.

“Parent leadership and initiative is essential,” he said. “It really makes things happen.”