Recess Before Lunch

Traditionally, schools schedule students' lunchtime before their midday recess. Recently, some health and wellness experts have questioned whether this order works best for children. We know kids can have difficulties learning when they are hungry, so they need to eat. Recess is just as important for students' well-being, too. In addition to improving their physical fitness, students benefit from recess because it helps them improve their social development and concentration. Further, recess has been found to reduce behaviors that can be disruptive. Lunch and recess are vital parts of a child's school day, and some believe having recess before lunch can play a major role in maximizing the benefits of both activities.

Noticing the Need for Change

Lunch monitors notice the incredible amount of food students waste at lunchtime. Reasons for this waste vary. Sometimes, kids just don't find the selection appetizing, but often, students skip over food on their plates because they are excited to move on to recess. To many, less time spent eating equals more time on the playground.

Those who've witnessed this behavior see cafeteria food wasted and may even hear grumbles from hungry kids later in the day. Such hunger pangs may result in unnecessary trips to the school nurse. On the other hand, kids who gobble their food like they are in a contest and then play hard at recess may upset their stomachs, too. Either way, learning can be affected negatively. When such problems are evident, educators must work together to intervene.

Benefits of Recess Before Lunch

Besides lunchroom monitors, the United States Department of Agriculture has taken note of the incredible amount of food students waste when eating at school. Some schools have carefully documented how consumption changed once students began to play before they ate. What they discovered was that more milk, vegetables, and fruits were being consumed. Along with this data, countless anecdotes recount how having recess before lunch has benefited students. Some classrooms report having fewer incidents of disruptive behavior during instructional time. Some teachers say the lunchroom environment is more relaxed and quieter. This behavior, say many teachers, transcends the cafeteria and is exhibited in the classroom. Students seem more focused and ready for learning activities, which, in turn, can add up to 10 minutes of instructional time—time that had been wasted on settling students down and getting them on-task. Furthermore, fewer students feel ill following their midday break.

Obstacles to Address

With so many benefits, what are the challenges inherent in having recess before lunch? The challenges that come with recess before lunch are multifaceted. When the time of lunch changes, new routines may need to be established. Pushing back the time to eat can be hard on some children's bellies. Access to breakfast or a midmorning snack may alleviate hunger pangs, often experienced by those from low-income families where breakfast is simply not an option.

The logistics of hand-washing and caring for outdoor attire must be carefully planned. To go outside, kids may need coats, hats, etc. Such items are too cumbersome to manage in the cafeteria. Restroom trips must be planned, too, and every step of the way requires supervision. In addition to this mandatory manpower, those who work in the cafeteria will need to adjust their daily routine since food will be served later. The time shift likewise affects the custodians responsible for cafeteria cleanup. Problems such as these are sure to arise when any change to the daily routine is made.

Implementing Recess Before Lunch

The first step to take when implementing recess before lunch requires careful investigation of how other schools are following this program. Consider the best practices used by schools in Montana, one of the nation's first to experiment with it. Also, search for nearby schools that currently have recess prior to eating lunch. If possible, plan a visit to observe how it is practiced.

Another necessary step will be to educate the school's stakeholders about recess before lunch. This includes reaching out to parents as well as cafeteria staff. The stakeholders need to be educated about recess before lunch; however, they will need to have their voices heard and their concerns addressed during the process. Task a problem-solving committee to help in this area. The student council is another group that can be the voice for those whose stakes are the highest.

Since the change process won't be flawless, expect to adjust the schedule and routine when necessary. It will likely take some time to iron out any kinks that manifest. A trial period of one year can help a school gain insight into how well the school community is adapting to the change. Revise the routine when necessary, but be sure to do it with the stakeholders' input in mind. Above all, be patient. The results can be well worth the wait.