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The kids deserve a break

Remember recess, that magical time during the school day when kids could burn up some energy on the playground and teachers could take a breather? When classmates could climb up monkey bars or come up with some harmless monkey business?

Well, hold onto those memories. Someday you may want to tell your kids or grandkids _ especially because they may never know otherwise.

According to a recent report in the New York Times, more and more elementary school systems are eliminating recess, banishing it to the same dusty cloakroom that now houses inkwells, dunce caps and all those tattered copies of Dick and Jane. Some educators, such as the superintendent of Atlanta's public schools, view recess as wasteful lollygagging. Others say fears over lawsuits and lurking molesters, as well as teacher shortages, have contributed to the decline.

If this trend keeps up, we can expect the next generation of adults, like 5-year-old Atlanta kindergartener Toya Gray, to answer our opening question with this one of their own: "What's recess?"

The decline of recess hardly registers as the biggest crisis facing our schoolchildren, but it is disturbing all the same. Recess may be kid stuff, but it's important kid stuff. According to child-development experts, it's where young children learn important social skills, such as how to negotiate, cooperate and resolve conflicts. Unfortunately, that may mean an occasional encounter with the playground bully, but even that, experts say, is part of growing up. Recess is also a good way, studies show, to reduce fidgetiness _ and increase concentration _ later in the day.

Eliminating recess also downsizes the already shrinking physical-education opportunities now offered the nation's schoolchildren. In Florida and elsewhere, it used to be that students had P.E. class everyday. Today, only one state _ Illinois _ requires daily P.E. in kindergarten through high school. The result? More overweight children than ever before, according to a recent surgeon general's report. Most kids spend less than one hour every day at physical activity _ and more than six hours in front of the TV or playing computer games.

School districts and teachers are in a time-crunch. There are only so many hours in a school day _ and so many classes that must be squeezed in. There's also pressure from parents, who press for the broadest array of activities for their children while demanding improvements in performance. Something has to go.

If only it didn't have to be those few moments in the day when kids just get to be kids.