Debbie Rhea, associate dean of Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences and kinesiology professor, is launching a new program at the Starpoint School and Trinity Valley School, which will emphasize the importance of recess and children taking more “brain breaks” during a school day.
Rhea said the reason children are tired of school at such an early age is because they sit at desks for the entire school day and only get a short break for lunch. Kindergartners are doing the same amount of time as high school students, which is why Rhea said children can’t take in information.
“We always say that our kids have sponges for brains and that when they’re young, they’re sponges,” Rhea said. “We think they can take up everything we give them, but what we’re finding is that’s not true right now.”
Rhea said the difference is that U.S. education is heavily weighted on academics, which is why children can’t process information after they have been sitting at desk for hours.
“What we’re going to do now is just have two recesses in the morning of 15 minutes each and two in the afternoon of 15 minutes each, and keep [a recess] at 1 p.m. around lunch,” Rhea said.
“[This means] They’ll have the two in the morning, two in the afternoon, have their lunchtime, and be able to continue with their seven-hour day,” she said.
Amanda Young, physical education teacher at the Starpoint School, said she has already seen that the children are more attentive in class with the added recess time.
“Children need time to just grow and experience and play,” Young said. “When they get to play and be creative, then their brains are more ready to learn.”
Olivia Rowlands, a junior early childhood education major, said although she is not completely familiar with Rhea’s program, she thinks the idea of increasing playtime for children is beneficial.
“Recess allows children the time to release built-up energy and take a mental break, allowing them to focus better and be more engaged when they return back to the classroom,” she said.
Audrey Leppke, a junior early childhood education major, said she also thinks allowing children more time for recess is a great idea.
“I see no possible downsides in allowing students to take breaks,” she said.
Rhea said she looks at her life in chapters, and last year she decided she wanted the last chapter of her career to focus on improving education in the United States.
Rhea said she has worked in the field of education for 34 years and didn’t decide to take a sabbatical until 2011.
Rhea said her decision to take a sabbatical was sparked when her neighbor brought her an article from the Smithsonian about the education system in Finland.
Rhea said reading the article created a passion in her.
“When I was considering what I was going to do, it was something that was going to take me into that future; this will be my future, my last mark,” Rhea said.
She said after she read the article she decided it was time to go visit Finland to see what they are doing that makes their education the best in the world.
In 2012, Rhea spent six weeks in Finland during the fall semester.
Rhea said she spent time visiting elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, faculty and the government, dedicating one week to each.
“I followed administrators around on a daily schedule. I looked at their physical education classes. I watched their recesses, and here’s what I found as a result: they do different types of structure in their schools,” Rhea said.
Rhea said that in Finland, kindergarten through second grade students only go to school for four and half hours a day, with three hours of class and one and a half hours of recess.
Rhea said the added recess time will launch at local public schools next year and she thinks within the next few years, people will be seeing a different population of children.