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Traditionally, elementary students rush through their lunch in order to be the first one on the playground and be able to choose the swings or control the ball. Educators are taking an interest in ongoing studies across the nation and in Canada where students are sent out to recess before going to lunch. After lunch, they returned to their classes, calmer and ready to go to work immediately instead of the traditional cool-down time after recess.
In various program trials (Recess Before Lunch), teachers discovered that their students' health and behavior improved. When they returned from lunch, they were settled and ready to learn and stayed focused on their lessons. Janitors noticed there was less litter on the playground and in the school’s hallways. There was less fighting on the playgrounds and fewer discipline problems for playground supervisors to solve. School nurses noticed a big decrease in students complaining of stomachaches and headaches. The children came in from recess hungry and thirsty. They were able to consumed 8 percent more calories and nutrients, 35-40 percent more calcium and 13 percent more vitamin A from eating more of their lunch and drinking all of their milk.
The first couple of days were confusing and crazy, but toward the end of the week, volunteers noticed that lunch time was calmer.
Custodians noticed a huge difference in how much food was discarded. There were fewer discipline referrals to the principal. Schools were awarded extra money for participating in Utah’s Gold Medal School program. (By setting goals in the gold and platinum levels, schools can earn between $100 and $200.)
What barriers stand in the way of these benefits? Administrators hate changes in longstanding education traditions. Teachers were concerned with how it would affect the students' focus on learning and the ability of the lunch servers to serve so many kids at once. The parents were the most reluctant to change their children’s routines because of concerns of where they would put their coats, hygiene issues and concerns that children who missed breakfast would have to go longer before eating.
Kami Jones, who works part time for the health department, with Utah’s Gold Medal School program and is chairwoman of Healthy Herriman, also works as a volunteer at Herriman Elementary School. Recently, she trained teachers, staff and students to ignore tradition and go to recess before lunch in her son’s year-round school.
According to Jones, “The first couple of days were confusing and crazy, but toward the end of the week, volunteers noticed that lunch time was calmer. Students and teachers were adapting to a new routine, and the benefits were very obvious. With the Gold Medal School program reward funds, new shelves will be built in the lunchroom to hold each classroom’s totes.”
Jones added, “There are several guidelines and resources found online about the recess before lunch program and Utah’s Gold Medal School program. The first step is to educate yourself on these programs. Step two is to educate and involve all appropriate people in planning, such as the principal, teachers, aides, secretaries, food service staff and janitors. Steps three and four are to educate students and parents regarding the changes. Step five is to try the new schedule and give it time to work.”
The students went to lunch less distracted and ready to eat more of their food but then they stayed focused and ready to learn when they returned to their classes.
Proponents say some of the concerns that may arise from implementing this new concept can be easily fixed. If your school is on a year-round schedule, they suggest starting with just a couple of tracks first. If it's a traditional school schedule, the school may want to start with a couple of grades as a pilot for the program.
Other suggestions are adding extra lunch time volunteers at the beginning of the program, installing hand sanitizer dispensers for students as they enter the cafeteria and allowing an extra five minutes before students go to lunch to use restrooms and wash hands. Each class may want to use a bucket or tote to store cold lunches that can be taken to the lunch room and placed on the class's assigned table.
Jones said that in her school, students are required to stay at their assigned tables for the 20 minutes before going back to their classes.
“The students went to lunch less distracted and ready to eat more of their food but then they stayed focused and ready to learn when they returned to their classes," Jones said. "At the Herriman Elementary School, janitors have gone from dumping 10-15 bags of garbage a day to five bags of garbage per day from our cafeteria.”
Sharon Linschoten, a published author ("Confessions of a Substitute Teacher"), freelance reporter and community leader, enjoys writing, substitute teaching in local area schools, watching her family grow and living on the west side of the valley.