Playworks for every kid

Bringing out the Best: Collective Action by the Florida Recess Moms

In Florida, many schools have no recess at all. This year, a group of moms sponsored legislation to change that.
February 17, 2016

With the advent of Playworks’ 20th Anniversary and our aim of reaching 3.5 million kids in 7,000 schools by 2020, I am launching a new blog that I am calling "Bringing out the Best." The idea is to highlight amazing work by Playworks’ partners to bring out the best in our communities through play. I am excited for this chance to learn more about the state of play, and I welcome your ideas and suggestions for stories!

I first met the Recess Moms when Kristi Burns, one of their members, reached out to ask me for supporting research on the power of play. When Kristi moved from Northern California to Lake County, Florida, just north of Orlando, her son went from daily recess in Kindergarten and 1st grade to no recess at all in 3rd grade. Initially, Kristi assumed that this was just a strange oversight. She thought that if she brought the lack of recess to the attention of the right people, common sense would prevail. Such was not the case.

At roughly the same time, four other moms were having similar experiences in other parts of Florida. Angela Browning, Amy Narvaez, Heather Mellet, and Roberta Brandenberg were all concerned about the lack of recess at their children’s schools. These moms began to organize, coordinating visits to Tallahassee and ultimately convincing one of their state representatives to sponsor legislation. More moms signed on, and the initial five moms became 15 stalwart supporters, with an active Facebook legislative discussion group of forty-seven.

One of my favorite stories from Kristi was that the moms not only took turns lobbying, they also took turns watching one another’s kids. Ultimately, they built an organizing effort that includes 28 of the 67 Florida counties, represents 75% of the population, and gathered 53 sponsors of a bill that would require 100 minutes of recess per week in 20-minute segments.

This past week, despite passing all committees in the Florida house unanimously, the Recess Moms were unable to get on the agenda in the senate. They set up a phone 'sign up genius', which allowed people to sign up to make phone calls from around the state every five minutes to the office of Senator Legg, the Senator who refused to put them on the agenda in the Senate education preK-12 committee. By the end of the day, he finally responded, speaking to a reporter and saying that he did not feel the bill merited “a Tallahassee solution.”

When I wrote to Kristi to send my condolences, she responded, “We go to the first house floor vote tonight. Our House supporters are working hard at an alternative way of getting this passed, but if we do not succeed this year, we will bring the bill back next year.” I often say that one of the great things about play is that it reminds us that most successes happen thanks to a whole host of failed attempts. Even though the story is not over yet, the work to date of the Recess Moms is inspiring.  

Through their collective action, the Recess Moms have raised considerable awareness in Florida and nationwide around the importance of play for our kids’ social, emotional, and physical health. Their work contributes to growing national momentum around a movement to revive recess and give every child the opportunity to play—every day. And, my sense from speaking with Kristi is that the experience of organizing, lobbying, and strategizing was worth doing in and of itself.

Regardless of this year’s legislative outcome, I am happy to offer this note of congratulations and thanks to Florida’s Recess Moms. The Recess Moms’ work to bring out the best in Florida’s schools demonstrates that all of us have the ability to make a difference.