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Recess Before Lunch Improves Child Behavior

By , SparkPeople Blogger
When I was young, there was a traditional order to the school day: classes, lunch, recess, then more classes. I couldn't imagine mixing up the day, but now some schools are experimenting to see if it improves children's eating habits, physical activity and behavior. So what are they doing?

Schools across the country have decided to try recess before lunch. According to some schools who have made the switch, "When children play before lunch, there is less food waste and higher consumption of milk, fruit and vegetables. And some teachers say there are fewer behavior problems."

One school in Arizona that implemented the change reported a 40% drop in nurse visits (since the children didn't get sick running around after eating a big meal). They also reported less food waste, since before kids were in such a hurry to play that they wouldn't eat all of their food. Students were also calmer in the classroom when they returned from lunch because they used lunchtime to wind down after play.

Although there have been some logistical challenges to such programs, about one-third of Montana schools and other districts around the country have adopted this program. Still, a study in the Journal of Childhood Nutrition & Management reported that fewer than 5 percent of the nationís elementary schools were scheduling recess before lunch. So it seems that schools have been slow to change.

This seems like a great idea to me. An easy way to get kids the activity they need, but then help them focus better and get back to learning when playtime is over.

What do you think? Do any schools in your area do this?

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Our kids have an AM recess, then lunch/recess combined. Most kids are eager to go play, so don't really eat much--my kids included. They are so hungry when they get home and so I actually make a mini-meal which includes protein and produce. I like this idea, but as the school continues to grow larger (to try to get a larger share of the designated funds from the government), I think the schools will be less likely to make schedule changes unless it helps them to accommodate more kids in a limited space. Report
Angelbeliever - did you go to the same school district I did???? I didn't have band but I do remember we had to hustle home for lunch, bolt down some food, hustle back. And we had recess morning and afternoon. But in high school, we got lunches there so the weight began to regain... Report
I don't think so. Report
When we first moved to Georgia, my kids school didn't even have scheduled recess ! Their first school did not even have a play area ! ! I am glad to say that some things have changed. Personally, having worked in an elementary school, the idea of a real recess time, and before lunch would be a great move. Report
Schools take forever to change. Send this to your local superintendent of schools. I recently took a seminar on facilitating change and do you know it takes only 5 pieces of mail, email or phone calls to get your officials to notice the populace? They're busy and they cannot be everywhere and on top of everything. It is our responsibility to let them know what we are thinking. Report
I can definitely see how this would be a good idea! I volunteer at our granddaughter's school quite a lot and I hear the lunch aides saying that the kids throw their lunches out in a hurry to get done and have more recess time. This would certainly solve that problem! Report
I think this would be worth a try. I am a substitute teacher and getting the kids settled down after recess is always a challenge. Regardless, kids need recess time and it seems they keep cutting away the time they get for recess. This is not the answer. Kids need a break from school work. Report
This definitely seems to make sense to me. Hopefully more schools will get going and implement this soon. Report
SO TRUE Report
I always had recess before lunch in elementary school, and I think this is common practise in many schools around here. It seems only fair that children have a recess before lunch, if not also after...I mean, I leave my desk for a coffee break at work, so why wouldn't kids be allowed the same? They have more energy to expend and a way shorter attention span than adults. Report
My school wouldn't try it or consider the possibility of another way to do things. They are stuck in their ways. Most things are decided at district level anyway. Report
Our elementary school tried recess before lunch for a breif time. I don't know whether it was the break with tradition or the fact we don't have a long lunch/recess period (35minutes), but the children didn't like it. Parents protested the schedule and it was changed back after a year.
I would have liked to give it more time. Report
Great idea Report
Makes more sense doing it that way. Kids often skip lunch or throw away things they can't eat quickly in order to have more time to play.Someone has fianlly watched our kids and is now doing something healthy for them.Fruits and vegetables are important and I hate the waste at schools. Report
Great idea and makes good sense. Hopefully more schools will adopt this principle. Report
I'm amazed (and after 32 years in education)! I always thought as I was taught that exercising after lunch helped students work off the calories and their "extra energy so they could be more attentive after they got back in class. Who woulda figured?!?!? Report
I can totally see how this would benefit all my children. Report
My kids' school switched to recess before lunch this school year. Overall, it seems to be a good thing. Report
We have tried this new approach to recess before lunch. It is an elementary school in the NW corner of CT. I see a lot of food being dumped in the garbage every day. I am not sure if it is because we have a salad bar and teachers make the kids take stuff they don't want, or they just don't feel like eating. I know when we first started it, kids would be really thirsty and down their milk too quick and it would come back up. That seems to have stopped, but, I think it is better if they have recess after eating. Report
My school is going to try this in the 4th quarter, beginning in March. I'm anxious to see the comparison. Report
Considering how rowdy my 7th grade students get at the end of lunch, I can only imagine how HUGE of an improvement I'd see in their behavior if they got to run around BEFORE sitting down to their meal. Sadly, middle schoolers don't really get a recess (or even year-round OR daily gym class), so there are little options for them. It's pretty sad when I think about it. Report
When I went to school in the 50's and continuing to today, the schools in my area have both a morning and an afternoon recess with lunch of abot an hour and fifteen minutes. Seems to work well and gives teachers a nice break too from the students, except for the ones on playground duty. Report
I love the idea. I had recess after lunch, and no one really wanted to do that much because we had just eaten. We did get an afternoon recess too, though.

Now I'm in college, and I work out in the morning before my first class, after which I eat lunch. It helps me stay focused, probably because I've already gotten my blood pumping and oxygen going to my brain. I'm thinking about adding another short workout in the afternoon, because I start to zone a little bit around 2 or 3... Report
Excellent, excellent, excellent idea!!! My son is four and in pre-school and specifically asks that I not pack him a sandwich so he can play. Report
I've been an elementary teacher for the past 24 years and many of the schools in our district started trying variations on scheduling about 6 years ago--so many children need to eat lunch quickly and efficiently--and most of the schools in our district loved the results of having recess before lunch so much that they have been doing it for 16 years or more. I was a bit surprised to see this blog and even more surprised to find out that more schools aren't doing it. The teaching time that we have back from eliminating all of the highly active behavior alone has made it worth its weight in gold, but the other benefits you describe really put the star on top of the tree!! I hate to see children throw away their healthy food, and now that they know they will be in the lunchroom for their assigned time, they are more likely to eat it. It is a great improvement over the "eat as fast as you can to get outside to play" scheduling of the past. Report
I think it sounds like a good idea - I work in an elementary school. I'll definitely share this with my administration! Report
When I was in school half the kids went to recess first while the other half ate, and then we switched. I don't have any memories of which I did first.

With a morning healthy snack, the kids wouldn't have to go too long without eating and then they could get all of their energy out before lunch leading to a more productive day! Report
When I was in school and when my kids were, there was a morning recess (about 10am), lunch with attached recess (11:30-1215), and an afternoon recess (about 2pm). This did not include PE. Do they not still do this? If they have the kids playing before eating, I would suggest changing the lunch break to 11am-11:45 so that the kids aren't starving). Report
When I was young, the lunch was first and then recess. I am pretty sure I had undiagnosed hypoglycemia when I think back to my body reactions. By lunch time, I would be shaky and weak and needed that food before going out to play. Report
I don't think we've moved lunch recess to before lunch - but the elementary kids get a 15-20 minute recess and snack break before lunch. All parents are to send in healthy snacks (I send a 100% juice box, cheese stick, fresh fruit and whole grain pretzels). They also have changed the specials schedule to double the amount of gym time each student gets. The playground has a number of large climbers (and a climber that is wheel-chair accessible, since we have a number of physically challenged students in the school), large blacktop and basketball courts, huge soccer/football fields and a "wall ball" wall! The gym program includes rock climbing (an indoor wall was built in the gym for that) and other high activity games.
The lunch program has worked to lower fat contents, and increase the number of vegetable and fruit offerings. Each day students have a choice between 3 entrees. My kid eats everything, plus milk daily and ususally gets a double entree! I can monitor what he eats through the point of purchase system.
I'd love to see recess prior to lunch - and I think they are working towards that. The bathrooms are designed with the sinks open to the hallway (easy to stop by on the way to the cafeteria) and there are more and more hand sanitizer stations all over the school. Report
My daughter's school began this schedule last year. I really like it. Unfortunately, because the school is large, not all grades go in this order. Report
Because of political pressure from the public to increase test scores in reading and math, in the past decade educators have focused more on academics and less on exercise. It seemed to make sense to cut hours out of the day that seemed superficial, like outdoor activity. Now they are beginning to get pressure to get more exercise in the daily regimen because of the obesity epidemic. It makes sense to get kids to move. If parents truly want change in their districts, they need to find the research about this topic and get active in the PTA where the principals listen to the parents. Go to the Board of Education meetings. Get involved. Report
Our school does it for some classes but not for all - probably scheduling reasons. It's so simple, it seems brilliant! Now if we could get them to serve real food (not food products) for lunch, kids will have even fewer health/behavior problems and even better achievement... Check out Slow Food's website for more on that! Report
My 8 year old sons' school implemented recess before lunch two years ago and it has been a positive experience for teachers and students alike. Parents are asked to pack a good morning 'health break' snack for 9am (cheese, grains, fruit, etc), the kids go outside for 15 minutes. Then lunch recess is at 11:15 and they come in for lunch at noon. My son tells me that he eats better, eats all of his lunch and sits better afterwards. The teachers report the same from their point of view. Report
One problem I see for implementing this is that we've lived around schools that had such a high school population that the first lunch was around 1045, just to allow for the 3+ lunch groups to get through.
Also, having lived overseas, I would say that American playgrounds are far less challenging than what I've seen in other countries. You aren't likely to see kids climbing on anything much higher than shoulder level (if that). In Europe and Japan, we've seen ziplines, kid friendly climbing walls, bridge walkways that swing and rotate around. I think many of the average playgrounds that we've seen elsewhere would be classified as adventure playgrounds in the US. (The difference probably rests with our lawsuit happy system.)
Is lunch the only recess these days? I remember morning, lunch and afternoon recess (at least until junior high). Ironically it might be the middle school boys would would most benefit from a half hour of vigorous unstructured activity. And they may be the least likely to get it. Report
That is not done in our area yet. Although it sounds like a good idea, it is not enough. Part of the problem is that kids have less and less recess time every year. We had a lot more outside or in the gym (if the weather was bad) breaks when I was a kid. They try to cram way to much in and the kids never get to be kids. Report
This sounds like a great idea. I don't think it's been implemented at the schools here... at least not yet. And now my children are too old for recess, so they won't benefit anyway. Maybe I can suggest that they exercise prior to eating lunch on the weekends...? Report
My son (in kindergarten) has recess before lunch - works great for him, although it must be said the kinders get a snack in the a.m. and the bigger kids do not, so it could result in long mornings for kids with no food. Report
One of our local schools follows this format. The logistical problem is having the children wash their hands following recess before eating lunch. They are with the recess aides at that point in the day which makes for a little more confusion. The children are more calm coming back to the classroom after lunch verses coming back to the classroom after vigorous playground activity. Report
My kids had recess first then lunch. They changed it starting this school year. Now the teachers are all happy that the kids pay better attention after lunch. Report
You all do things different down there. Up here recess occurs mid-morning for 15 minutes, lunch break for 50 minutes and afternoon recess break for 15 minutes. There is also DPA - daily physical activity that is required in all schools for 15 minutes, up to 30 minutes. School should focus on all aspects of a child, not simply the academic and its great that down in the USA this is being recognized as important. (now) Report
Our school district has been doing recess before lunch for as long as I can remember. I thought everyone did that. It makes much more sense to do it that way. Report
Starting this year, one of our local schools has half of the students take recess before lunch. This was done because of overcrowding at lunch time but it would be interesting to see how it affects the students. Report
I live in southern Ontario and some schools in our area do the 10-15 minute mid morning and mid afternoon breaks for snacks and outdoor play as well as a lunchtime/playtime (generally eat first - play later style) however, many schools have switched to what they are calling a "healthy balance" schedule and have "health and nutrition" breaks for about 20 minutes two or three times spread out during the day. Also, a minimum of 30 minutes daily of physical activity is manditory in most school boards. Report
This may be true for behavior, but I also read, that EXERCISE helps LEARNING. When I think of all the recesses in grammar school, and P.E. in HS, I also had no WEIGHT problem as a kid. VERY FEW of us did!! I have uploaded my class picture from the 3rd. grade (to my page) There are 2 girls who were overweight, and one boy a little puggy. Try to find that today!!!
We played hard, and ate GOOD food! NO JUNK! Report
My kids are grown and now I have grandkids. but this would seem like such a good idea. Someone needs to introduce this idea to all schools. Report
My son is in Kindergarten and his elementary school has made this change already. They started it a year ago at the suggestion of the PE teacher, who shared the research with the staff. When we met with the principal during parent orientation, she shared those same findings with us - less waste, more focused children, less behavioral problems during lunches - and that their first year had worked out well. They continue to do recess before lunch and while it is not happening in every elementary school in our district yet, I am sure more schools will be making the adjustment. Really glad they are doing this for our school. They are also asking parents to avoid sending heavy, sugary snacks to school for birthdays and other celebrations, as a way of continuing their commitment to wellness. Report
I am on the Wellness committee at my school. Luckily, for us the principal is 1) also a parent of kids in the school 2) committed to kids health and 3) also a member of the committee. At the beginning of last school year I brought up this idea after reading about it. The nurse had worked in another school that had made the switch (from lunch after to lunch before lunch) and said it worked really well. This school year we made the switch and it seems to be working out well. Now to just find a way to work in a second recess ... Report
I wish my son's school would do recess first. He's in first grade, and most days at least half of his lunch comes home with him. (We send sack lunches most days because he's vegetarian and school lunches usually aren't.) He is just too eager to go outside and play, and the adult lunch monitors don't really even check to see if kids have eaten before letting them go outside. He does get two or three recesses a day, so at least he's getting multiple chances to run around and play, but reversing lunch and recess seems like a great idea. Report
I find this very interesting and saw some news reports on the topic last week. I am not certain that it is ideal because a lot of children do not eat an appropriate breakfast and are quite hungry come lunch time. However, I am willing to stay open minded and see what happens over time. Report
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