school recess

School Recess Article

In recent years, an effort to pass laws mandating school recess for elementary school-age students has picked up steam largely as a result of parent advocates who believe school recess plays an important role in their child’s well-being.  The first parent uprising formed to put school recess into Florida schools was proposed in 2016 and passed in 2017 after “recess moms’” took to Facebook and lobbied legislators.  What started for some parents as “common sense”, that kids need a break in the academic day has turned into something more.  As they dug into the issue they found that school recess has many benefits that amount to much more than a “break in the school day.”

Research on School Recess

Since the discovery of school recess offering “something more in the area of research”, parents have used research as a tool for advocating for recess in their children’s school.  The research they were referring to indicates that physical activity is crucial to children’s development and increases a child’s ability to focus, attend to tasks, and recall information.  Additionally, physical activity (AKA Recess) has been shown to provide emotional or mood benefits, as well as, making sitting still and relaxing easier.

A 2014 study in Pediatrics[1] found that physical activity enhanced cognitive performance and brain function during tasks requiring greater executive control. These findings demonstrate a causal effect and provide support for physical activity for improving childhood cognition and brain health.

A 2017 document[2] on recess from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists the benefits of recess as:

  • Improves social and emotional development
  • Improves memory, attention, and concentration
  • Helps students stay on-task in the classroom
  • Reduces disruptive behavior in the classroom
  • Increases level of physical activity

This document also provides national guidance for recess in K-12 schools. Some of the recommendations include: provide (at least) 20 minutes daily for recess, prohibit the replacement of physical education for recess, provide adequate spaces, facilities, equipment and supplies for recess, ensure spaces meet or exceed safety standards, prohibit exclusion of students from recess for disciplinary reasons, and provide staff members who lead or supervise recess with ongoing professional development. [3]

Recess Regulations

So you may be wondering who has recess?   In 2019, four states have a specific recess law on the books mandating recess for 20 minutes daily for elementary students. Missouri, Florida, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Arizona passed legislation for 2 recesses daily without specifying the length of each recess.  Six more states require between 20-30 minutes daily for recess: Iowa, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Connecticut, and Virginia. California has a mandate that students leave the classroom with time to go to the restroom and get a drink but play time is not mentioned.  However, most schools in California in practice send children to play during this time as well.  Two more states, Massachusetts and Arkansas are considering recess laws this year.

Improving Recess

With the trend toward mandating recess, in the last 3 years, a number of documents have been produced in support of recess to guide schools and parents in improving recess in their schools.  The new resources for recess are:

Professional Organizations Supporting Recess

Besides the parent advocates, a number of other influential advocacy groups are taking a stand on recess.

No Recess, No Problem: Parents Say Otherwise

Gone are the days when administrator, can say that “No recess is No Problem”. Parent expectations coupled with the abundance of research on the value of recess and physical activity is reaching a spill-over state.  Unless your head is in the sand it is just short of impossible to deny the value of recess and keep a straight face.

No longer is it acceptable to say that spending more time on academics is a valid reason to deny recess.  To say that the lack of recess will allow more time for academic development has been proven in numerous studies to be erroneous.

How informed educators can say otherwise is misguided and disingenuous.  So get on board and join the movement that is sweeping the nation that “recess and physical activity are a crucial part of the school day as they contribute to brain development and academic success.”

[1] Pediatrics. 2014 Oct; 1234 (4). Effects of the FITKids randomized on controlled trial on executive control and brain function.

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017.  Physical Activity During School: Providing Recess to All Students.

[3] Source: CDC and SHAPE America- Society of Health and Physical Educators.  Strategies for Recess in Schools. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2017.