Educators fixated on the three R's — reading, writing and 'rithmetic — ought not ignore a fourth R: recess. On its face, recess seems to be superfluous. Nor does recess shield...

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Educators fixated on the three R’s — reading, writing and ‘rithmetic — ought not ignore a fourth R: recess.

On its face, recess seems to be superfluous. Nor does recess shield a school from the exacting requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind education rules.

But it does play an important role in child development. Allowing students brief breaks from the rigors of high academic achievement ensures their physical health and their mental well-being.

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Unfortunately, school districts around the nation, including the Tacoma School District, are discouraging principals from viewing recess as important.

Tacoma’s shortsightedness runs counter to federal health policy. Federal guidelines for children call for 60 minutes of moderate activity most days, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost half of 12- to 21-year-olds are not vigorously active on a regular basis. Fourteen percent of them report no recent physical activity at all. The result is troubling health trends.

Type 2 diabetes is on the rise among teenagers. So many young people have this type of diabetes that it precipitated changing the disease’s name from adult onset diabetes. The number of extremely obese children has doubled, to about 20 million. This shift is not the result of genetics but how our children are living. They are living without much exercise.

Educators have tackled the obesity issue by revamping school nutrition. Food at schools had become merely a revenue source, with cookies and donuts outselling fruit. Educators have shifted the emphasis to healthy options for kids and less on money.

It is time to use the same smart approach with physical exercise. Recess is there to give kids a chance to blow off steam and prepare for the second half of an academically strenuous day. When physical-education classes have been reduced to one day a week or eliminated altogether, recess shouldn’t be seen as a throwaway option.

Children are children. In our quest for high academic standards, let us not forget that.

The Seattle School District leaves it up to each school to determine its fitness needs. The School Board has convened a fitness committee to begin looking at the issue of physical exercise in schools. Tacoma ought to take the same approach.