By Rabbi Jeremy Winaker
Head of School
Albert Einstein Academy
The New Jersey legislature is debating legislation to require schools to have recess for 20 minutes daily. The Washington Post recently published an article by Emily Sohn that reviews recent studies that demonstrate the health benefits of recess. The unstructured time for free play that comes with recess is in greater demand now that class time has less and less of it. Neuroscience is proving that moving our bodies actually helps our brains think better. Not to mention that when children’s bodies are growing, they need time and experience to adjust. Being a tween is hard enough without being stuck at a desk all day.
There is no debate about needing recess at AEA . In fact, we make a point of providing multiple experiences of movement throughout each day, week, and month. We have daily recess for 30 minutes (including lining up). If the weather is bad, indoor recess includes hopscotch, mini-floor hockey, and Dance Dance Revolution. We have two hours of gym for each class each week. We stretch at morning prayer. We use Aleph-Bet yoga. And, we have Israeli dance once a month. The goal: healthy minds and healthy souls in healthy bodies.
Do you remember having to learn the dances that peers knew at bar and bat mitzvah parties? At what might be the most awkward time in their lives, our community expects 12 and 13 year olds to dance in step, with confidence, and comfortably. And by the end of the sequence of each year’s celebrations most can; the beginning is pretty rough, though. For alumni of AEA , there is no transition, there is no awkwardness, there is only knowledge and ease. Taking time once a month for Rak-Dan to teach Israeli and other dance gives our students what they need to be able to run the dance floor. They know the moves; they know the music; and they know how to hold hands. In other words, they have all the socialization taken care of in advance of the pressure moment, so they can just enjoy.
It is not enough though just to get students moving and able to dance; we want them to soar. By building movement into everyday routines, students fidget less, get into trouble less, and thereby build a self-image based on success rather than misbehavior.
At AEA, one of our core values is “experimentation,” where we encourage failure as learning process. For example, during recess this fall, our older students tried and tried and tried again (under supervision) to find the best way to climb trees. With each successful rise to a new branch, our students experienced unstructured play in a way that mimics perfectly the nostalgic youth of yesteryears and the real-world challenges with more than one solution. True confidence comes from having the chance to ascend on one’s own.
By helping students have healthy bodies we all give health to students’ minds; with the right intention, we can also help their spirits soar.