Want to know the deal on recess? Go to the experts.

"We can exercise!" said Collette Guerin, one in a gaggle of second graders rocking the playground last week at Zane North Elementary School in Collingswood.

"You can use up your energy so you're calmer," chimed in classmate Celia Titcombe.

Lilly Stout spoke for all:

"It's so fun!"

In time, schoolchildren all over New Jersey may join in that chorus.

A bipartisan-backed bill recently cleared the state Assembly's Education Committee that would require school districts to provide a daily recess period for students in kindergarten through the fifth grade.

The recess would have to be at least 20 minutes long and held outdoors, if possible.

"In addition to giving children time to recharge during the school day, recess allows students to develop their social skills and get some physical activity," said Assemblyman Joseph A. Lagano (D., Bergen/Passaic), one of the bill's primary sponsors.

"With more and more young people at risk for illnesses due to inactivity," Lagano said, "it's critical for recess to be part of their routine starting at an early age."

According to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 17 percent of youth in the United States were obese during the period from 2011 to 2014. That represents an increase from nearly 14 percent of youth in 1999-2000.

The rate of obese adults has risen as well, to more than a third.

If the bill becomes law, New Jersey would be one of a relatively small number of states requiring recess.

According to a 2012 report of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education and the American Heart Association, only about nine other states mandate recess. Among those are Hawaii, North Dakota, and Virginia.

The sport and physical education association recommends that all elementary students should be given at least one daily period of recess lasting a minimum of 20 minutes.

A majority of states require physical education in their public schools. However, only a few, including New Jersey, require the nationally recommended 150 minutes a week of physical education for elementary students, according to the 2012 report.

A number of federal sources including the Department of Health and Human Services advise that children and adolescents do at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. That includes aerobic exercise as well as activity to strengthen bones and muscles.

"There is definitely a broad set of benefits that come from ensuring that a child has sufficient physical activity," said Jennifer Ng'andu, program officer with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in New Brunswick.

Citing various studies, Ng'andu said recess has been found to promote social and emotional learning and better classroom behavior.

In addition, investing in recess and organized play has been linked to bullying prevention, more readiness for class, and more time for teaching and learning, as well as better school climates and academic outcomes.

In Collingswood, the second graders on the Zane North playground as well as their district elementary school peers already get 30 minutes of recess daily along with health and physical education several times per week, according to Superintendent Scott Oswald. It is a priority the district has set.

Still, Oswald added a caution:

"At some point, we need to accept that schools cannot do everything."

If districts add more play time to the school day, Oswald said, the Legislature and the public need to realize something else will have to be taken out.

"We can work opportunities for movement and social activity into the school day," he said, "but some of that needs to happen after 3 p.m. as well."


856-779-3893 @ritagiordano