Virginia children could get more recess time under new bill

WASHINGTON — Kids throughout Virginia could be getting more playground time as local efforts to allow recess to be counted as instructional minutes advance in the Commonwealth’s General Assembly.

When parents in Fairfax and Prince William Counties asked local school boards for more recess time, Centreville mom of three Catherine Stewart said they were told, “You’re going to have to talk to the state about that.”

So they did. And they got help from local lawmakers.

Virginia Senator J. Chapman Petersen, D-Fairfax, and Delegate Karrie K. Delaney, D-Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, each sponsored bills. The proposals do not mandate that school systems add additional recess, but eliminate barriers that might prevent them from expanding time allotted for unstructured playtime.

Currently, Virginia requires children receive 990 hours of instructional time each school year and that time can’t include recess.

Senate bill sponsor Sen. J. Chapman Petersen is flanked from left by Stella Pekarsky of Fairfax County; Catherine Stewart of Fairfax County; Barbara Larrimore, who leads the Prince William County group; and Melissa Keenan of Fairfax County. (Courtesy Alex Parker)

Touting the benefits of recess, Stewart said it can improve social skills and promote good health.

“I know Senator Petersen is big on the health side of this and wanting kids to be exercising more,” Stewart said.

Movement and free play also can improve the learning process.

“There actually are a lot of studies that show that having cognitive breaks, where kids are able to choose whatever they want to do — unstructured time where they get to play — helps them process what they learn in their class,” Stewart said.

More Recess For Virginians” groups are sprinkled throughout the state, and locally there are chapters in Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun Counties.

Bills proposed in Virginia’s House and Senate have passed and are now being considered in opposing chambers as part of the “crossover phase.”

“It passed the house 97 to three,” Stewart said. “It seems like everyone is supportive of this, and I think there’s a very strong likelihood that this bill is going to pass.”

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Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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