In our wrap-up of this spring’s legislative session, Illinois PTA noted the passage of SB654, the Right to Play Every Day bill that guaranteed every kindergarten through fifth grade student 30 minutes of “supervised, unstructured, child-directed play” every school day. Governor Pritzker has now signed the bill into law, and its requirements take effect immediately. If your PTA covers grades K-5, this new law is also an opportunity to advocate on the local level.

Children of United States Navy Personnel stationed in Yokosuka, Japan play on the playground during recess at The Sullivans Elementary School, the largest DoDEA school in the Pacific District.

What is Required

Unstructured playtime has long been known to benefit children, so much so that it is included as a basic right of children in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by 190 countries. This new Illinois law requires that every child in kindergarten through fifth grade get 30 minutes of such unstructured playtime (i.e., recess) every school day lasting five hours or longer. The 30-minute total can be broken into segments of at least 15 minutes. For days less than five hours in length, recess of at least one-tenth of the school day is required. The recess time cannot be taken away as punishment.

This unstructured time is separate from physical education requirements, and “lunch recess” after a child has finished eating does not count towards this time either. The time for kids to get into winter coats and boots (or other dressing/undressing needs) or the passing time from the classroom to the playground does not count towards recess as well. While schools are encouraged to hold play times outdoors, indoor recess is allowed and schools that choose to do so are encouraged to hold it in a space that promotes physical activity.

The play time can include organized games (e.g., kickball, 4 square, etc.), but must allow for unstructured, child-directed play. Students with IEPs or 504 plans must also receive this play time, and they should receive any necessary accommodations or services in their plans so they may be able to fully participate in play time.

What Your PTA Can Do Now

If your PTA covers kindergarten through fifth grade, you have a local advocacy opportunity. Here’s what your PTA can do:

  • Make sure everyone in your school community knows about the new law, its requirements, and especially that it cannot be taken away as punishment. The latter has a long history in schools, and the new law will need families aware of the requirements to ensure the practice does not continue.
  • Schedule some time at a PTA meeting early in the year to have a discussion regarding the law and how your school administration will be ensuring its implementation.
  • If your PTA plans on purchasing and donating items to the school, consider donating items that support unstructured play. Note that this could also include having a paved play area painted to support playing 4 square or other games.

Illinois Families for Public Schools has created a FAQ document on the law, along with case studies and other resources with additional information to help your PTA and families understand the new law. Remember, advocacy is not just getting bills passed and signed into law, it is also ensuring that they are implemented properly.

Photo © 2014 DoDEA under Creative Commons license.