4 breaks a day now the norm for Bruderheim students

Kids often dream about recess, even if it could mean freezing hands or a kickball in the face.

At Bruderheim School, kids are getting more of that time than ever before.

The small school in the town of Bruderheim, about 60 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, restructured its schedule at the beginning of the year to introduce four recess breaks a day. 

Principal Paul McKay said the new regimen is about more than just fun. It's meant to help students concentrate once they return to their desks.

"They come into the classroom more ready to learn, and just more prepared,"  McKay said, noting the school has been working with students on how to regulate their own behaviours. 

CBC/Madeleine Cummings

"We did a lot of strategies and things inside the classroom, and so this is just another layer to it."

Grade 5 student William Furey, unsurprisingly, agrees. 

"I think it's better than how it used to be, because it just gives kids more of a chance to be more active and have more fun during school," Furey said, after his first recess of the day.

The school has about 130 students from kindergarten to Grade 6.

The new schedule gives them four 15-minute breaks throughout the school day. The first recess, after an hour of class time, is an "instructional recess" with teachers supervising and playing along-side students.

To accommodate the extra time spent outside, the school has added 10 minutes to the instructional day. Children have been told they must move quickly to get ready for recess and come back inside, especially in winter when they have to deal with snowsuits.

Furey still struggles sometimes.

"It takes me a long time because I just like to take my time," he said. "I'm not (like) 'Rush out! Rush out! Rush out!'" 

Idea from Finland

McKay got the idea after reading a book by well-known Finnish educator, Pasi Sahlberg. The Nordic country has a long-standing national program to decrease the amount of time that students spend sitting. 

While it can be hard to measure the success of the program, the school will look at results in reading and math at the end of the year. During recess, educators are looking at things like student interaction and conflicts.

Other Alberta educators have also been looking to Finland for inspiration. Amit Mali, the principal at Lamont High School near Bruderheim, recently travelled to Finland where he learned about how high schools are also incorporating the principle of movement into the instructional day.

"After the first period, they got a 30-minute break, completely unstructured, and students were kind of left to their own devices," Mali said.

"It was actually remarkable to see that the staff came together. Over there, it was a time for teachers to kind of get away from the classroom and just socialize and de-stress a little bit and the kids got that time as well." 

Teachers at Lamont High School have now decided to create a student lounge, where high schoolers can play ping pong and have a space for themselves, Mali said.