school recessSchool recess holds a special place in the heart of the American public school student, according to the editorial in today’s Concord Monitor.

Life Lessons Learned on the Playground

However, beyond the love of recess, there are also many life lessons that are learned on the playground. Parents are beginning to understand how important recess is to a child’s development.   In a policy statement last year, The American Academy of Pediatrics said, “Recess represents an essential, planned respite from rigorous cognitive tasks. It affords a time to rest, play, imagine, think, move and socialize.” And, perhaps more importantly, “Students are more attentive and better able to perform cognitively” after recess.

I visited Japan a few years ago and had the opportunity to visit a number of schools there.  Do you know that many Japanese schools require students to take a break after EACH 60 minutes of instruction?  In this year’s Learning Curve global education rankings, Japan is second. It’s unlikely that recess is the sole secret to Japan’s success, but it’s not unreasonable to suggest that “frequent breaks” deserves a spot on the list of “best practices.”

Withholding Recess

Alternatives to recessFor those students who do get recess on a daily basis, withholding recess is a common practice.  According to a Gallup poll commissioned by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 77 percent of school principals report that they withhold recess as punishment.  In that same report, eight in ten principals acknowledge that time to play has a “positive impact on achievement,” and two-thirds of principals state, “Students listen better after recess and are more focused in class.”  This is a practice that needs to align “what we know” with  “what we do.”  I wrote a featured article a few years ago on 60 Alternatives to Withholding Recess.  It is one of the most popular articles we’ve published.  You can find 60 Alternatives for Withholding Recess for download and distribution.

Health Benefits  of Recess

In the featured article, Making the Case for Kids Moving More, we discussed the importance of physical activity gained during recess and why PA should be a part of every school day. Physical activity is any bodily exercise that enhances or maintains physical fitness and overall health or wellness. We think of physical activity as burning energy or calories. For health benefits, physical activity should be of moderate or vigorous intensity, according to the USDA.

Regular physical activity is important for children for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the long term health benefits. Physical activity also aids in maintaining a healthy weight.

In addition to long term health benefits, children also benefit from keeping active in several other ways.

Some of the additional benefits are:

• Decreasing the chance of depression

• Helping to sleep at night

• Strengthening of bones and muscles

• Helping to maintain a healthy weight

• Enjoying the ability to move easily.

Link  Between Physical Activity Gained At Recess and Academics

An emerging body of research is pointing to the relationship between physical activity and academics. Good habits are the key to good health;  healthy students perform better academically, have better attendance, and behave better in class, according to the American Heart Association.

Three recent literary reviews conclude that school-based physical activity programs may result in short-term cognitive benefits (Taras, 2005), improve cognitive functioning among children (Sibley & Etnier, 2003), and do not hinder academic achievement (Trudeau & Shepard, 2008). A physical activity break such as recess has been shown to reduce fidgeting, increase a child’s ability to focus, and combat depression and anxiety.

Perhaps you might now agree??  Recess is indeed more than just “child’s play”.


Bossenmeyer, M. 60 Alternatives for Withholding Recess.  Featured Article Peaceful Playgrounds  Web site.

Bossenmeyer, M.  Making the Case for Kids Moving More.  Featured Article Peaceful Playgrounds Web site.

Concord Monitor, September 22, 2014.  Editorial:  Recess Isn’t Just Play Time for Children

Centers for Disease Control. 2010 Shape of the Nation Report. National Association for Sport and Physical Education-

Sallis, J.F., J.J. Prochaska, and W.C. Taylor. A review of correlates of physical activity of children and adolescents. 2000 Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise by the American College of Sports Medicine.

American Heart Association. For the Classroom. Teacher Section. Elementary School Lesson Plans