PASADENA, Md. -- As classmates pecked at computer keyboards on a recent Friday afternoon, George Gunther, a blue-eyed first-grader with a large alligator on his T-shirt, sat gazing at the sunshine outside.
"If I could, I'd stay out the whole day," he whispered, his feet dangling in oversized running shoes.
But George and his classmates at Bodkin Elementary School, half an hour south of Baltimore, don't get outside much. They work straight through to lunch most days, when they get a short break. Then it's back to class until after 3 o'clock.
Harsh as it sounds, that's not unusual. As schools increase academic demands and fret over playground fights and unstructured time, the traditional elementary school recess is losing out. School districts across the nation are simply keeping students at their desks, and that worries some parents and child development experts. Young children, they say, need breaks from work and increased physical activity.
Swinging on monkey bars or trading baseball cards may seem out of place in school, but child development experts say recess performs an important role: It allows children to choose something they like to do, to excel physically and to indulge in pretend play -- all of which tend to get squeezed out in increasingly structured schooldays.
Development experts also say recess allows potentially hyperactive children to blow off steam, while giving teachers a chance to see pupils' social isolation that might not be apparent in the classroom.
Chip Wood, a Massachusetts consultant who helps teachers find time during their schooldays for their pupils to play, said schools eliminate recess to be able to report more "time on task," or minutes spent on academics.
While no research exists on how many school districts are cutting recess, Wood and others said parent and teacher complaints are on the rise nationwide. School districts -- among them Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit -- are making recess optional or eliminating it.
In Atlanta, they've even built a few elementary schools without playgrounds.
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