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Why All Kids Need Recess

By: , – Michelle Stroffolino Schmidt, Ph.D
2/27/2013 12:00 PM   :  37 comments   :  41,493 Views

Do you remember elementary school recess?  Can you conjure up vivid images of your play time?

I think I jump-roped around the globe over the course of my elementary school  recess hours.  The traditional, two-people-hold-one-jump rope game was my forte.  I can even hear the song in my head: "Strawberry shortcake, cream on top, tell me the name of your sweetheart..."  The group then sang out a letter of the alphabet with each jump.  Hopefully, if the boy you "liked" started with an S or T or W, you would be able to jump long enough to land on the right letter. 

As children, we looked forward to running free during that period of time during the day.  No hall pass.  No permissions needed.  Little teacher interference.  Fresh air.  Pure and simple play.  That was the 1970s and 1980s for me.  Over the course of the past two decades, however, fewer children have been able to experience the freedoms of recess.   

Perhaps the biggest contributor to the decrease in recess for children has been increased academic expectations.  In a nutshell, in came academic standards and out went recess.  It made sense to many: If there are higher demands academically and more accountability of schools, teachers, and children, then recess (the perceived "perk") must go. 
The problem: Children need recess!   
A recent report issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics received a lot of attention.  The report, supported by research, communicated what many parents and teachers (and even children) already know about the importance of recess.  Aside from giving kids a chance to be active, which is what we usually associate with recess, recess is associated with more attention and productivity during learning times and better development of social-emotional skills such as negotiation and cooperation and sharing.

The news confirms earlier reports. The AAP said five years earlier that free and unstructured play contributes to health and cognitive development, and to social and emotional development (helps kids manage stress and increases resiliency).  Yet, the National Center for Education Statistics in 2005 reported that approximately 15% of children have no recess and of the other 85%, some have as little as 15 minutes or less.   In 2006, School Health Policies and Programs Study reported that 11% of states require recess in elementary schools and 57% of school districts require it.  A silver lining perhaps: It was also reported that 79% of elementary schools reported that they actually do provide recess. 

But here's more worrisome news: Gallup in 2009 stated that two-thirds of principals reported taking away recess as a punishment. It is often those who have recess taken away who most need that time to better concentrate in school, and there is a significant difference in access to recess economically and racially.  According to the Teachers College Record report:
  • 44% of children living below the poverty line do not have recess compared with 17% of others
  • 39% of African-American children don't have recess compared with about 15% of Caucasian children
  • 25% of kids who score below average on standardized tests do not have recess compared with 15% of those above average. 
 
We are a confused nation.  We so want our children to do well, but often policymakers do not know how to make that happen.  Policies go into place, only to be replaced by others.  Perhaps we can benefit by going back to the basics and recognize that kids need a chance to be kids.  Then, we can build from there.  Some kids are in school more hours per week than their parents are at work.  Add homework to that—how many of us want to work at work and then when we get home from work?  Kids and adults need a break.  Evidence shows recess need not be an hour or even a half hour of recess, but children need time to free their minds and bodies from the confines of the classroom.

What can you do?  Advocate!  Have a voice!  Be educated!  Do you know if your child has recess?  If so, how long is it?  Does your child’s teacher take away recess time for children to finish work or as a punishment?  If you do not know the answers, find out.  Something so simple can go a long way in helping children succeed.  Together, we can bring recess back!

 

Michelle Stroffolino Schmidt is Chairperson of the Department of Psychology at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on social and emotional development in childhood and adolescence. She has published research on parent-child attachment, friendship, peer relations, bullying, and mentoring. She has also done consulting work with schools as part of their bullying prevention and intervention programs. Michelle recently published the book Friendships in Childhood and Adolescence (Guilford Press), which explores the significance of friendship from toddlerhood through adolescence. The book examines factors that contribute to positive friendships, how positive friendships influence children’s lives, and interventions for those who have friendship difficulties. Michelle is the mother of a 7-year-old son, William, and a 2-year-old bulldog named Eve. She enjoys yoga, kayaking, writing, and cooking.



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Comments

  • 37
    Although my home-school child does not have "recess" in the conventional sense, I find that she does a lot better when we go out and ride bikes, play tennis, ride on her scooter with her friends, swim... whatever the day brings. I hate computer games... although we will play Adventures or Disney on the XBox... I think all kids need to get out of the house more, and away from the tv and video games. - 5/27/2014   2:30:31 PM
  • MJOHNSON2076
    36
    As a preschool teacher, I can agree with this 100%. My kids need to get outside to play everyday. They are much more focused when we do sit down to work if they have time to run free. They also get along better with their peers when they have more free time to interact with them. I can even tell the difference when we have to have indoor recess because they are much more fidgety and not as focused during indoor activities. We've been stuck inside for almost three months now because of the weather and they're practically bouncing off the walls and can hardly wait until we can go outside again. - 3/5/2014   9:57:11 PM
  • LKWILKINS1
    35
    This is definitely a difficult subject for teachers as well. I teach third grade and try to "take away" recess as little as possible. When my students do miss recess it is never a surprise. I do keep my students inside if they do not complete homework, they know this will happen. However if it is because a child does not have a supportive home-life, I find a way to help the child complete the homework in school without him/her missing recess. - 3/19/2013   8:46:05 AM
  • AMBER461
    34
    Recess ls good for children so that they can destress and recharge they energy to constructive thinking. - 3/14/2013   9:41:10 PM
  • 33
    Absolutely... daily recess, outdoors whenever possible, and/or structured play - is important for all kids! - 3/5/2013   12:15:19 PM
  • 32
    I hated PE in school and was thrilled when my kids got to high school and could opt-out. They went to JUDO classes and soccer after school so they got plenty of exercise. - 3/3/2013   6:34:08 AM
  • 31
    Here's to recess and unstructured time for kids!! We all need this and, if you look around at the amount of 'stress related illness' in our adult world, you can see how important taking time out is. The caveat I would say is really around making sure the necessary supports are in place to help kids work through the bullying and clique behaviour that can often occur and has been cited here as the reason to cut this time from children's schedules. These are important learning times and need to be capitalized on. I know that recess often means breaks for teachers (much needed I might add) but providing minimal outdoor staffing discounts the learning that can happen oin the playground with good modelling and support unless the school budgets for adequate numbers of support staff to play this role.
    While many might argue that academics outweigh playground time, I would refute that, without a sense of energy and well being, kids can't take in the academics no matter the teaching strategy. Let's help support balanced kids whose learning on and off the playground is equally important! - 3/1/2013   9:24:13 PM
  • 30
    Totally agree recess, as well as phys ed, are important to kids. In addition to the health benefits, what about just learning how to entertain themselves, make their own fun so they're not "bored" all the time. - 2/28/2013   3:42:32 PM
  • 29
    Recess was when everyone gathered into little cliques and excluded some kids. I was part of a group, but I couldn't help feeling bad about kids who were left out, and even my little group left them out. Recess wasn't really fun. Kids were so mean. - 2/28/2013   3:14:10 PM
  • 28
    I will never forget my daughter's first grade teacher making her "stand up against the wall" during recess as a punishment for forgetting to bring a book to class. Not only was the teacher disrupting her well-earned free time, but using recess as a chance to expose her to public humiliation. Thankfully we moved mid-year and her next teacher was much more tuned into kids' needs and appropriate discipline measure when necessary. My daughter is now a freshman in high school and still remembers that incident. Unfortunately she does not like to be active which is mostly due to her temperament and interests, but I wonder if in some small part the joys of recess and being active were somewhat soured in her mind by that incident. - 2/28/2013   12:35:31 PM
  • 27
    My kids have recess but it there is misbehavior the teacher requires that they walk around the play area. I like this because they do get some activity. - 2/28/2013   12:11:59 PM
  • 26
    My kids have and love recess. I don't know if it's required or not, but I was very happy to hear my daughter tell me that when the weather is bad they do recess in their classroom. I asked her what that was like & she said they do a little dancing as a class and then they're free to play on their own for a while. My son was complaining that recess isn't long enough, but he would play at recess all day if you let him! :) I don't know how long they get, but I'm glad they do have recess daily.

    I was shocked that some schools don't do recess. I had no idea. What a shame. It really makes me appreciate my kids' school! - 2/28/2013   9:45:43 AM
  • IDOL559
    25
    There should always be a recess. Kids need that time to regroup just like adults need time while working. All schools should have recess - 2/28/2013   9:15:29 AM
  • KMF2012
    24
    My recess days were back in the 60's - and I still have great memories of them. Like the blog author, jump-roping was a favorite - and I've tried it in my later years - what a great aerobic exercise and calorie burner. No wonder there weren't the "little chubbies" then that there are now! Playing softball, cheerleading, dodge ball, kickball, hopscotch, Lemonade, Red Rover, just walking and talking with a friend... wow the memory film just keep rolling! Who says that the "gold old days" weren't really all that good? Oh yes they were. And then going back into the classroom where the emphasis of the teaching was on the three R's, after being outside in the fresh air and "getting the blood circulating" during an active recess time, was an exciting time as well. There's a lot to be learned from the lessons of the past - if only modern educators would be willing to listen!! (Oh, I forgot the see-saws and cherry bumps!!) - 2/28/2013   9:12:13 AM
  • 23
    Recess is not allowed to be taken away at my school. It's counted as part of their PE time (actual PE classes are 30 min 4 days a week). When I kid does something they're not supposed to we redirect them to another area of the playground. So it they're misusing equipment they can go the track or blacktop to play kickball, basketball, or 4 square. If they're causing fights in a game of kickball, no more kickball. Very rarely do things happen that require kids to have an actual time out where they sit on the wall for 5 min. We still let kids play tag at my school, though only one finger touch, at my son's school (same district) tag is not allowed nor are any of the chase games we played as kids. - 2/28/2013   8:37:52 AM
  • HIKERBECKY
    22
    Active play develops brains. Play in general develops brains. Lawmakers have no idea what they are doing! I am an ECE specialist and our brains need to be outside! It is pretty sad when a kid in my class that is 3 years old has no idea how to play with blocks but can run an iPad better than most adults! Active play is the answer. - 2/28/2013   8:17:46 AM
  • REDROSE49
    21
    I am a teacher in Canada. More and more, the high pressures put on the schools to perform, are causing recess to be taken away, for whatever reason. Here, the first morning recess is included in instructional time, giving teachers leeway to keep kids back for extra help. We don't have the bodies to give kids late or different recess times. The world moves so fast now, that we are told it's a good idea to train kids this way from the very beginning. It's the modern fast paced way. I am older, and old fashioned, so I wish we all had less pressure. The definition of childhood has changed for sure, and not just because recess is becoming obsolete ! - 2/28/2013   6:33:32 AM
  • 20
    As a teacher, I totally agree with the fact that ALL kids need recess, and that the ones that need it the most get it the least. Increasing pressure from the state has taken the fun out of school for children and teachers alike. I love my job, but in the 10 years I've been teaching it has become increasingly more stressful. I wish the people that make the policies were with the kids day in and day out, so that they could see the effects of their decisions. - 2/28/2013   6:00:11 AM
  • 19
    The educational system in place in most states is abysmal. Red tape has replaced teaching and it's more a babysitting venue than opportunity to educate and expand the mental, social and creative horizons of children than it was in the past. We should look to other successful nations as we have, frankly, lost our way. - 2/28/2013   5:06:47 AM
  • WENDILIA
    18
    I say kids need more creative fun. Try HeadBodyFeet. A piece of paper is folded into thirds and one player draws a head on the first section. The paper is then turned over and the next player draws the body on the next section without seeing the head. Same for the feet, and then the paper is unfolded to reveal how it all fits together. You can play online now too for free at headbodyfeet.com. - 2/28/2013   3:54:45 AM
  • 17
    My son has ADHD among other mental issues. He always needs to do two to three things at once. He is in High School now but when he was younger the teachers realized that he behaved better because he had something to look forward to nice he accomplished all his work. It was up to him when he would go out. In other words, if he did his work at a slower pace due to a bad day then he went out latter that was originally scheduled. If anyone took that recess away due to other behavior issues he wouldn't be productive for the rest of today. I'm glad that our school system realizes the impotence of learning in relations to productivity in students. Nice article. - 2/28/2013   2:54:12 AM
  • 16
    Such a sad article. I can't imagine schools without recess. As an educator for the past 25 years, I am thankful that recess here in British Columbia and across Canada has not been threatened. This is a time for play, exercise, socialization and imagination. - 2/27/2013   11:38:28 PM
  • 15
    Teachers need recess too ! - 2/27/2013   10:59:48 PM
  • GOODWITCH333
    14
    In our school system, recess is mandatory. It teaches the kids to be active, to socialize, to be independent. It's not normal to have kids sit still all day. Active bodies house active brains. (also, when its winter, standing around isn't much fun. At least when you run around and build snowmen/forts/monsters, you stay warm.) - 2/27/2013   10:00:21 PM
  • GOODWITCH333
    13
    In our school system, recess is mandatory. It teaches the kids to be active, to socialize, to be independent. It's not normal to have kids sit still all day. Active bodies house active brains. (also, when its winter, standing around isn't much fun. At least when you run around and build snowmen/forts/monsters, you stay warm.) - 2/27/2013   10:00:21 PM
  • 12
    I cannot agree with you more! It is disconcerting and disappointing that many of our educational policies are not in line with so much data to support this position. Don't even get me started (I am a teacher).... Homework policies need to be changed too in my opinion in order to facilitate the more active play that children need to be smart! Homework isn't what makes kids smarter. It's exploring, being curious, and engaging in interesting activities and PLAYING!!!! Well said. Thanks for your article. - 2/27/2013   9:26:08 PM
  • 11
    The demise of recess has been a pet peeve for me for quite some time. I am delighted that parents and educators are beginnging to realize this. Just as adults sitting at a desk for 8 or more hours 5 days per week need to get up and move occassionally, kids need to play during the school day for so many reasons and all of them excellent reasons! - 2/27/2013   9:25:35 PM
  • 10
    I wish so badly that my students (who are middle schoolers) still got recess. Today, I took the kids in my after school program outside to fly kites, and they got so excited you'd think I'd told them it was raining gold and candy. They admitted to being so hyper that they couldn't contain themselves -- because when you're 11, sitting still in class for 7 hours is just not normal! - 2/27/2013   8:16:13 PM
  • 9
    I am a teacher and I think the importance of recess, fresh air and even if students aren't overly active, the chance to socialize and relax cannot be under estimated! Those critical early childhood years (pre K-5) children 'use' play as a means of socialization and intellectual growth and for older pupils recess should exist so they have a time to chill out and socialize too (as if we all didn't do it in study hall anyway! :P) One thing I noticed between my life as a student/child in the US vs my formal teacher training years in Australia was that in at my schools in Australia even older students got a recess and they were far better behaved than I ever was in high school...coincidence I think not, we need to get our priorities straight. - 2/27/2013   5:57:23 PM
  • 8
    Yay!! Recess and play!!! I loved my time with my friends jumping rope, playing square ball and tether ball. We imagined ourselves as ponies and spun around the bars and ran and jump and just had fun!! The time of life of being a child seems so short now but oh the memories and many of just the simple things of recess and friends and fun!! Glad to read this documentation of how valuable what was so much fun really was!!! - 2/27/2013   5:29:36 PM
  • 7
    When I was teaching fourth grade, my kids went to PE three times a week for 90 minutes but as the fourth-grade team leader, I had the option of building in a 30-minute recess each day. My teachers and I decided to use the time as an incentive for good behavior. It is amazing what the loss of even one minute can do when it comes to influencing peer behavior. But I have to admit, recess came after math in the afternoon and if we had really good activities going, the kids did not want to stop math to go out and we did not make them. - 2/27/2013   4:29:26 PM
  • 6
    i do believe recess is important. children have the attention span of a goldfish. they can only concentrate for so long. having them stuck in the boring classroom for hours on end is mean. when i worked one on one with children with autism we would do one maybe two programs depending on how how they were and then the kid would get a 5 min break to just sit and stare at the ceiling or whatever. i usually worked in 3 hour sessions and i gave them a break after about an hour and a half if the kid worked really hard with me. then they get to go out for 20 min watch tv eat a snack while i caught up on paperwork. that was their time away from me the mean teacher. then when i went out to collect them they always came back and finished up the rest of the programs without any fuss or complaints. usually they finished early and i could spend 20-30 min with them just playing games. one kid i had right after he got home from school. i would pull into their house as they did. so i would spend the first 30 of the 3 hour time playing a board game with him so he could wind down and relax before i started making demands on him. he was a lot better when i did that. he threw tantrums if i went right into working.
    breaks and time outside is much needed by kids. i ran a lot of programs outside while they ran around. as long as they still did the work i worked around them. one kid i did his whole binder in the pool. he would swim back and forth and come back to me answer my questions or do the move i wanted him to do then swim around again. he did so much better then if i made him sit in the chair the whole time. - 2/27/2013   3:46:07 PM
  • NUNANA
    5
    Great article, I agree with a need for recess and breaks - 2/27/2013   3:19:04 PM
  • 4
    What a great article. I'm a kindergarten teacher and it is refreshing to see that there are still people that also know the benefits of recess for children. It is sad to think that so many schools are taking away recess when our society is becoming obese and the children need that exercise and fresh air. Thank you for a great blog. - 2/27/2013   2:56:20 PM
  • 3
    Even if all you did was sit and talk with your friends (which was probably not as likely to be the norm in grades K-3), it was still a way to learn socialization that we seem to have forgotten all about. My youngest didn't have recess in K because he only went half day. In order to "keep up" with the full day kids (lottery based placement with a fee), they had to eliminate recess. Not as critical for my son because I made sure he still had "normal" kid play time, not scheduled, coached team based programs - just kid led play. It's sad and I see a huge difference in the kids his age compared to my older kids who did have that free time, and a "break" during the school day. - 2/27/2013   1:30:30 PM
  • 2
    Yeah, that's great in theory and all, but when I was a kid recess was just a time to sit around and talk to your friends. Very few ran around and played and got any actual physical activity. - 2/27/2013   12:26:53 PM
  • 1
    Great article...but, I do feel time out during recess (for a short period, not the entire time!) is great bargaining power in behavior modification in children. They don't won't to miss their play time and will do their best to avoid it :) - 2/27/2013   12:18:55 PM

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