Reasons for Recess

The Rationale for Daily Recess
On 9/5/06 Dr. Renae Dreier informed:

“It is important for you to know that the new elementary schedule does not eliminate recess. The elementary school schedule reorganized recess, built in a series of breaks throughout the day, and set a common “options” block at the end of the day so assemblies and other school needs can be handled without disrupting core learning time. Teachers know their own students. Not every day is the same. We all know there are days and occasions when it’s just time to get up and move around. With the new schedule, teachers can make the call to give students a break when they need it rather than when a bell rings! This is one of many changes that we will be taking a look at throughout the fall to see if we need to make any adjustments”.


Dr. Dreier gives freedom to the teachers to make their own choices and conclusions about recess needs. We applaud her for this and appreciate her sensitivity. However, the common scheduling in all elementary schools leaves the recess slot optional and open to a variety of approaches. Does this not pose a problem when "teacher A" provides outdoor play on a regular basis and "teacher B" does not? All children should receive the benefit of daily recess as a break in their studies, instead of it being incorporated into their lunch break only.

Additionally, more instruction time without sufficient time for unstructured physical movement and/or play does NOT equate to higher test scores and the research on brain and cognitive development prove it. (Mastering new information and recalling past information is enhanced by biological and chemical changes in the brain caused by exercise. - Brink, Pelligrini, Rossi, Ratey…) This call for reinstating daily recess is not about parents disgruntled over change; it's about robbing young children of necessary time to engage in unstructured physical play, socially interact, and take a well deserved break that will not only benefit them emotionally and academically in the short term, but equally important also socially in later years!

The arguments against recess, which are based on neither theory nor empirical fact, suggest that recess takes time away from more productive work time. Yet, research shows that recess and the behaviors that children develop during recess may serve either immediate or deferred benefits. The strongest evidence supports the immediate benefit view; that is, recess maximizes children’s attention to class work. (“The Place of Recess in School: Issues in the Role of Recess in Children’s Education and Development.” Bjorklund and Pellegrini)

Schools have reduced the amount of time dedicated to recess and after-school physical activity opportunities; few offer daily physical education. Schools have reportedly been cutting back on physical activity and physical education programs, primarily to allow for more classroom time to improve test scores and grades. A growing body of evidence suggests less time dedicated to physical education/activity may undermine the goal of better performance, while adding time for physical activity may support improved academic performance. (The Learning Connection – The Value of Improving Nutrition and Physical Activity in Our Schools)

Through his research Pellegrini has found that recess is an easy mark for elimination because children don't have as much power to advocate on their own behalf. "Frankly, kids are easy targets because schools can take something away from them and they can't make their voices heard," Pellegrini says.

• Pellegrini, an educational psychology professor, has spent 25 years on school playgrounds studying children's behavior and the impact of recess on different aspects of adjustment to school. His research shows that recess maximizes students' attention to classroom tasks and also helps them learn how to interact with each other socially.

Brain/Cognitive Effects:

• Research by Brink (1995) suggests that capacity to master new information and recall past information is enhanced by biological and chemical changes in the brain caused by exercise. (from “Since When Did Recess Become a Dirty Word?”)

• The recent research on brain growth and development stresses the importance of active, physical, and cognitively stimulating play for all children. (Zwillich 2001)

• Rossi and Nimmons (1991) point out that twenty minute mental breaks throughout the day enhanced productivity. The brain performs poorly when attempting constant intense attention and is capable of ten minutes or less of continuous focus on external stimuli.

• Dr. John Ratey, (Harvard psychiatrist – leading researcher studying the impact of exercise on brain function) “I’ve said for years that exercise is like Miracle-Gro for the brain. It causes a huge increase in the growth factors in the brain.”

• Aerobic activity not only increases blood flow to the brain, but also speeds recall and reasoning skills. (Etnier 1999)

• Brain research strongly supports the link of movement, physical activity, and exercise to increased student performance. (Dr. Michael Wendt)

Physical Effects:

• “A 6 hour or longer school day is too long for children to go without breaks or opportunities for substantive physical activity.” Dolly Lambdin, ed. D., president of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education.

• Daily recess provides many benefits for children including enhances: aerobic endurance, muscle strength, motor coordination, and attentiveness. (from “Since When Did Recess Become a Dirty Word?”)

• The Council on Physical Education for Children asserts, “Children need a variety of movement experiences to develop a healthy mind and body that is capable of learning. Schools must schedule daily recess in grades preK – 6th. The involvement of young children in daily physical activity is crucial to their learning.

• A study by Pellegrini & Davis (1993) found that children became fidgety and less attentive in the absence of recess, while children engaged in vigorous playground activity were less fidgety and more attentive after recess.

• According to Clements and Jarrett (2000) children’s bodies experience heightened physical growth between the ages of 4 and 12 and vigorous physical activity during recess stimulates the development of the heart, lungs, brain and other vital organs.

• Can PE be a substitute for recess? The National Association for Sport and Physical Education says, “No.” PE provides a “sequential instruction program” related to physical activity and performance. Recess provides unstructured play time where children “have choices, develop rules for play and practice or use skills developed in physical education”.

• Physical inactivity poses health threats for children and is associated with the tripling of childhood obesity. (Findlay 2001)

• Exercise triggers the release of BDNF a brain-derived neurotropic factor that enables one neuron to communicate with another. (Kinoshita 1997)

• A 2002 study in California showed a distinct relationship between academic achievement and physical fitness levels of California’s school children. (Madigan)

Whole Child:

• “In recess, children learn how to cooperate, compete constructively, assume leader/follower roles and resolve conflicts.” Dolly Lambdin

• Jambor (1994) recognized the playground at recess time as one of the few places where children can actively confront, interpret, and learn from meaningful social experiences.

• When children organize their own games, they exhibit a wide range of social competencies including respect for rules, self-discipline, leadership skills, aggression control and conflict resolution. (Jarrett and Maxwell, 2000)

• Research by Pellegrini (1992b) suggests that social relationships developed on the playground facilitate relationships and learning inside the classroom as well.

• Research by Bogden and Vega-Matos (2000) suggests that students are more focused on their teachers and schoolwork after recess.

• Dr. Antronette Yancey, director of the Center to Eliminate Health Disparities at U.C.L.A. contends, “To compromise physical education in service of test scores and learning is completely backward thinking.”

• Pellegrini and Bohn (“The Role of Recess in Children’s Cognitive Performance and School Adjustment”) suggest that recess serves a positive purpose in the primary school curriculum, counter to the current practice of minimizing recess in many schools across North America. School policy should be based on the best theory and empirical evidence available. Recess breaks maximize children’s cognitive performance and adjustment to school.

• Recess may be the only opportunity for some children to engage in social interactions with other children. (Recess in Elementary Schools/ERIC Digest)

• School recess is often the only time during the work week that children are able to be carefree- a time when their bodies and voices are not under tight control.

• Unstructured physical play is a developmentally appropriate outlet for reducing stress in children’s lives. Ignoring the developmental functions of unstructured outdoor play denies children the opportunity to expand their imaginations beyond the constraints of the classroom.

• Today’s recess needs to match today’s students. Childhood depression, learned helplessness, and ADD/ADHD are just some of the learning differences that are more prevalent today. Obesity affects one in five students and is at epidemic levels according to the US Surgeon General. (Madigan)

• For some children, recess serves as their primary motivator for interest in school. When these students lose these pleasures, they have little left to keep themselves engaged. (e.g.: GT students who are typically under stimulated and put “on hold” for new learning to come their way.)

• In Finland – Test scores at the top in international standardized tests. Children there get a 15 – minute recess break after 45-minute lesson.

• In Japan - Schools typically have a 10-20 min recess period between 45-min lessons or 5-min breaks between lessons, with a long play period after lunch.

• In Taiwan - Schools typically have many recess periods during the day; children are also given 5-6 min of transition after recess in which to settle down.

• In Great Britain - Schools have three 15-min recess periods throughout the day and 80-90 minutes at lunch.


Maybe Dr. Dreier can learn something from the following which I read on http://www.schwablearning.org/

"A superintendent of a large, under performing district north of Boston reduced recess and lunch time in order to designate more of the day to instruction. The parents were outraged. The superintendent resigned at the end of that year."

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