The Importance of Recess

by SPARK


Is it Recess Yet?

Part 1 of 2

BJ-W-2By BJ Williston

SPARK K-12 Trainer & Curriculum Developer

Remember when you were little and someone asked you what your favorite class was?  If you were like me, you emphatically said “Recess!” It’s not that I didn’t like my “real” classes, it’s just that the freedom I got when that bell rang was so sweet I could taste it.

The choices seemed endless.  Sometimes I’d play kickball with a big group and other times I’d play marbles or jacks with a friend or I’d jump rope.  I remember there were several months when I was obsessed with mastering a few tricks on the bars, so that is all I did.  I grew up in Hawaii, and I remember needing help getting down whenever my muumuu got twisted around the bar.  After it rained real hard, we couldn’t wait to chase baby frogs across the field.  It was a smorgasbord of outdoor fun and I got to choose depending on my mood not once but twice a day. It was heaven.

Sadly, today’s elementary school kids don’t have it so good.  Recess has been on the proverbial chopping block in the past decade due to budget cuts and the pinhole focus on academic standardized test scores. The powers that be have decided recess just isn’t important enough to keep.  Well, I for one hope to shout that it is extremely valuable and worth fighting for. I’m not the only one, and more and more folks are causing a fuss to reverse this alarming trend.

Here are just a few of the issues in a nutshell:

  • School-aged children need about 60 minutes of physical activity a day for myriad reasons, including heart health, decreasing risk of overweight/obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and various types of cancer to name just a few.
  • Kids can get this 60 minutes of PA in a multitude of ways including before and after school activities, physical education class, activity during their classroom time, and recess.
  • Only 6 states require PE in all grades K-12.  Almost half of US students don’t receive any PE in an average week.
  • All students don’t have the resources to be involved in before and after school structured physical activity, and many kids don’t live in an environment conducive to unstructured physical activity during their free time.  Neighborhoods are unwalkable, and parks are too few and far between.  For these kids, recess is even more important to get them to the 60 minute goal.
  • Only 9 states require recess be given to elementary school students. Yikes!

We all instinctively know that recess is not just fun, but important for all kids to have on a daily basis. Knowing is one thing, however it sure helps recess’s case that The American Academy of Pediatrics has come out with a strong opinion promoting recess.  They consider recess a necessary break from the demands of school and in their policy statement in January 2013, they concluded that “minimizing or eliminating recess can negatively affect academic achievement, as growing evidence links recess to improved physical health, social skills and cognitive development.” So, there you have it: Recess is important for everyone.

Research conducted on recess and its benefits has found that students with at least 15 minutes of recess daily behaved better than their peers who did not have recess (Baros, Silver, & Stein, 2009).  So, clearly taking it away from children with poor behavior in class is not what the doctor ordered.  The benefits of recess range from increased physical activity to help children reach 60 minutes each day to the social and emotional learning they get from play.

Children learn teamwork, cooperation, empathy, fair play, and how to make adaptations to include all students.  What do they do when they disagree?  Do they need an adult there to help them clear it up? Most of the time, no.  They learn conflict resolution skills to work things out on their own. Skills they can take with them and use in their life outside of school.  Oh, and then there’s the benefit that the powers that be seem to be most interested in: improvements in academic scores.  There are myriad studies correlating fitness and physical activity with higher academic scores.  That’s always a nice feather in the benefits cap.

So, if everyone is saying recess is important, let’s be sure to keep it in schools and to make it the best it can be.  How do you do that?  SPARK can help. SPARK now has a Recess Component as part of the SPARKabc’s Program.  It was written to help school staff get and stay organized, promote health-enhancing PA, and promote positive social interaction in a semi-structured environment.  It’s got the whole package from an evaluation of your ho-hum or worse yet, dangerous and chaotic recess to all the tools you need to make it a recess your school is proud of.

The first step is to assess your current program.  SPARKabc’s Program offers a School Recess Report Card designed to provide you and your committee a starting point for assessing the quantity and quality of your present recess.

The 5 components measured are:

  • Time and Frequency
  • Effectiveness
  • Supervisors
  • Facilities and Equipment
  • Formal Policies

After measuring these (with a committee including representatives from recess supervisors, PE staff, administration, parents, and classroom teachers) prioritize the components targeted for improvement. Priority goes to the components with the lowest scores on the report card.  It is then time to implement!

See Part 2 of this blog for implementation ideas & resources.