Why Recess Should Be Before Lunch

Typically, most school children eat lunch then head off to recess. That’s just the way the curriculum has been set for years.

But, what’s more appealing to little Johnny an apple or a game of dodge ball outside? He’s probably just eating some of his sandwich and his snack pack, trying to get to his game of dodge ball as fast as possible.

But, kids will actually finish their whole lunch if they eat after recess, giving them the nutrition they need, according to an article in the District Administration.

“We tell kids not to eat and swim right away. And yet here we are, telling them that the quicker they eat, the quicker they get to recess,” Greg Welk, director of clinical research at Iowa State University’s Nutrition and Wellness Research Center told the District Administration.

Welk and other nutrition experts argue that young students develop poor eating habits, stomachaches and post-recess behavioral problems when lunch precedes recess. These factors make it harder for students to focus in the classroom, decreasing learning.

Many schools have already cut recess to make more time for academics, which actually decreases students’ learning and achievement. Physical activity increases brain activity and decreases hyperactivity, making it easier for students to focus and process information.

Other schools have abandoned recess to eliminate bullying, student injuries and other playground, behavioral problems.

However, the poll, “The State of Play,” revealed that principals nationwide still have an “overwhelming appreciation of the physical, emotional and academic benefits associated with recess.”

The recess before lunch initiative has been slowly gaining steam since 2002. A team in Montana’s Office of Public Instruction kicked off this initiative with a year-long study measuring how much food students throw away when they eat before recess. The group then extended the study to measure behaviors.

It found that when recess precedes lunch, kids drink all their milk, eat more and have more focus throughout their afternoon classes. The group published their findings in “Recess Before Lunch: A Guide for Success,” persuading many other schools to adopt the recess before lunch program.

About 40 percent of Montana’s schools have adopted this program, but it’s still not very popular nationwide. As of 2006, fewer than five percent of schools had this program. The District Administration estimates that the number has grown since 2006.

Switching the order of recess and lunch seems very simple; however, nothing with schools’ curriculum is ever simple.

To make the transition principals and other administrators must research the topic, estimating if it will work at their school. Then, parents’ and students’ opinions need to be heard. And if all looks good, then the school might adopt a pilot program to test the waters. If it’s successful, the program might go into effect.