Balanced School Day

The Elementary School at AISB is proposing to introduce a schedule in August 2009 that promotes a better learning environment, meets the nutritional needs of students in a more balanced way, and provides more quality time for physical activity and play. This organization of the day is referred to in the literature as the Balanced School Day. This schedule has been successfully implemented in many schools worldwide.

The Balanced School Day will consist of two nutritional/activity breaks in which children have time to eat and time to play. The new schedule has replaced the system of recesses and one lunch break. Schools that currently use this schedule have reported an increase in concentration levels of students; more positive play time, more physically active students, and better opportunities for learning through uninterrupted blocks of teaching/learning time.
Students receive many benefits from the balanced school day schedule including:
Academic Performance – Studies on brain compatibility have found support for a balance of learning, physical activity, and nutrition throughout a school day. In most studies it was found that students are better able to focus on their schoolwork for the full day rather than running out of energy towards the end of the day.

Balanced Nutrition – Health authorities indicate that children need frequent food breaks each day. This schedule provides two opportunities during the school day when students sit down to eat together, rather than eating on the run at recess. Students who are nutritionally satisfied can concentrate better and learn more effectively.

Physical Activity – At a time when physical inactivity and obesity are of increasing concern in school-age children, this schedule will give students two opportunities every day to take part in 20-25 minutes of uninterrupted play. Currently, much of the 15-minute recess is taken up with washroom breaks, eating snacks, and dressing, particularly during the winter months. Children often have little or no time to play. The quality exercise time energizes students, helps them to concentrate better on schoolwork, and promotes a healthy lifestyle.

More Time for Learning – To maximize learning for children the new schedule provides a significant block of intensive teaching/learning time without interruption. Under the old schedule, each of the three breaks during the school day results in at least 10 minutes of dressing/undressing. With two scheduled breaks, students will spend less time entering/exiting the classroom.

Literacy Program – School schedules have significant blocks of uninterrupted time for literacy programming (reading, writing, oral and visual communication) during each school day. This provides an excellent opportunity for teachers to fine-tune the literacy initiative that they have been developing for a number of years.

In the Report of the Expert Panel on Early Reading in Ontario, a number of conditions that will support the development of literacy skills and student learning are outlined. The report indicates that research on effective schools shows that schools and classrooms should be organized around the learning needs of students so that meaningful and sustainable improvements in student achievement can be supported. To help maximize instructional time and engage students in learning, the principal should:

  • Schedule large uninterrupted blocks of time for reading and literacy instruction;
  • Explore alternative timetables and school organizations that maximize instructional time;
  • Reduce or eliminate unnecessary interruptions during instructional time;
  • Schedule time for team planning and learning.

Where the Balanced School Day has been implemented, a consistent message has been reported, that when students have longer blocks of time to learn supported by regular nutrition breaks and physical activity, their concentration and readiness to learn increases. This position was strongly endorsed by the staff of schools who reported on the following instructional opportunities:

  • Longer periods of uninterrupted blocks of teaching time allowed teachers to delve deeper into the curriculum and reteach more difficult concepts leading to greater understanding;
  • Increased time was available for the use of manipulatives by the students reinforcing kinesthetic learning.
  • Students are better able to focus and concentrate in the classroom, especially during the middle of the afternoon following the second nutrition break, enabling teachers to provide optimum learning opportunities during the complete day;
  • With one less break in the school day there is a reduction in the transition time spent putting coats on and off adding approximately one hour of instructional time to each week;
  • Teachers are finding more opportunities to engage in professional dialogue with their colleagues, resulting in improved teaching practice.

School staffs have also commented on the improvement in the climate of the school. They have noted that:
  • The tone of the school is much calmer providing a better learning environment;
  • Playground behavior is improved with fewer discipline problems;
  • There is an improvement in the quality of play as students no longer have to try to eat their snack and play at the same time;
  • There is far less litter outside reducing the number of bees on the playground.

The Balanced School Day has provided an opportunity to educate students and parents on nutritional issues. It has been observed that:

  • Many students are bringing more nutritious snacks to school because they have more time to eat their food;
  • Food that is not eaten during the first break can be saved for the second break;
  • Parents have commented that their children do not come home as hungry at the end of the day.

Balanced School Day Links