MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. – We are about two weeks away from kids heading back to the classroom.
One local school system is hoping for another year of increased elementary test scores.
We sat down with the superintendent of Montgomery County schools, and he says a trip overseas to visit one of the world's best education systems opened his eyes to the one thing that was missing from our classrooms: playtime.
Montgomery County educators see the playground another classroom space where children learn communication and collaboration.
“I think it's an important part of learning,” said Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Miear.
The change in perspective came after a trip to Finland a couple years ago.
“What I found was that there was not a lot of difference between us and them. Of course, they have some of the highest test scores in the world and they're very high in terms of academic achievement, so I start looking at what is the difference,” Miear said.
He found they have 15 minutes of recess for every 45 minutes of academic learning.
“We had kids who were spending an entire day in class with very little movement and having to wait until the end of the day for recess and that's, you know, several hours. That's not good for kids,” Miear said.
As he was preparing changes in the classroom the General Assembly loosened its restrictions allowing playtime to be counted as instruction.
So last school year, Montgomery County rolled out twice a day recess for all elementary students.
Teachers were a little apprehensive at first.
“I think there was some initial oh my goodness what am I going to cut, because everything we do academically is so important especially at this grade level because we're building the foundation for the rest of their educational career as well as life skills that we're building here. I think once we worked out the logistics of teachers feeling good about that extra recess time and how they could schedule it in their day, they felt more comfortable about it,” said Oliver Lewis, Christiansburg Primary School principal.
By the end of the year, when test scores came back, just about everyone was sold on the idea.
Not only did scores not fall off, but they actually increased.
“Can we actually point to and attribute to additional recess time, it's hard to know. But I do know this - our test scores went up this past spring in comparison to previous years and I like to think that some of that had to do with the additional recess time,” said Miear.
Administrators can say with certainty that they saw even more positive changes besides test scores.
“Incorporating more movement into the day we've seen a decrease in discipline, we've seen students that are more engaged, less off task behavior and things of that nature,” Lewis said.
Montgomery County has no plans to change twice-a-day play -- they just hope to see test scores keep climbing.