The Benefits of Keeping Recess in Schools

Duck, Duck Goose, Mother May I, Hopscotch, Dodgeball, Red Light, Green Light; do any of these games sound familiar? Of course they do. Many of us played these games and more during recess while in elementary school. Unfortunately, today’s kids are likely not to be familiar with these games. In fact, a lot of them may not even experience recess at school.

Over the past several years’, elementary schools have been significantly reducing designated recess time or completely eliminating recess from the academic day. Some school districts have even gone as far as to not include playground space in the construction of new school buildings. Is this trend of eliminating recess in schools good for our children?

How did we get here?


For years, school officials have been pressured to increase standardized test scores. This has led them to decrease the time that would be spent on recreational time so that more instructional time can be used to educate students in the classroom.

Schools are not just using the need for more academic pursuits as a reason to slash recess time during the day. Some parents, teachers, and administrators are letting their concerns for safety over-shadow the benefits of recess during school. While some schools have banned certain games and activities, more schools have banned recess altogether over concerns associated with child safety.

There is no doubt that a child’s safety and well-being is very important. However, there are measures that can be adapted to protect children while they continue to enjoy the benefits of outside play during the middle of the school day. Children should not suffer because school administrators have not taken the time to research ways to make recess safe and well supervised. 

The Benefits of Recess


1. Academics

Several studies have demonstrated that recreational play increases children’s attentiveness and productivity in the classroom during instructional time.

Even when students spend the majority of recess time just standing and talking with friends, the break in the day offers great benefits. In fact, any type of activity at recess will increase cognitive performance in the classroom. Teachers often say that their students pay more attention and have less disruptive behavior after recess.

In an interview with Tiffany Bailey, Kindergarten Teacher, she stated, “Before my district incorporated recess into the school day, I would take my students outside to play a quick organized game or just to run around for a couple of minutes.” Bailey pointed out that she experienced less behavioral issues and increased engagement from her students.

2. Social & Emotional Skills

Recess promotes social and emotional learning and development for children by offering them a time to engage in peer interactions in which they practice and role play essential social skills.

During recess, children learn valuable communication skills including negotiation, cooperation, sharing with peers, and problem solving, while also learning coping skills, such as perseverance and self-control. Being on a playground provides children the opportunity to develop friendships.

Just like adults, kids find themselves overwhelmed and stressed throughout the day. This unstructured time can act as a natural stress reliever to reduce tension and anxiety through play. Some professionals have even stated recess is therapeutic for children. These skills become fundamental to a child’s lifelong personal tools.

3. Physical Benefits

Recreational time may be the only opportunity for some children to exercise, play games, and interact with other kids. The obesity rate in children is steadily growing and numerous studies have been published about the benefits of a child’s physical well-being.

Recess most often means moving, which means children are getting some sort of physical activity during the week. Activities at recess do not need to be vigorous to be beneficial. Even small movements during recess counterbalances inactive time spent in the classroom and at home. Giving children the opportunity to engage in physical activity during recess is very important to their muscle development and coordination.

When and How Much


The duration and timing of recess in schools vary by age, grade, and school district. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends children get a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity per day.

The majority of elementary schools offer recess after students have eaten lunch, but many schools have recently adopted the concept of “Recess Before Lunch.” Studies found when students ate lunch before recess, they rushed through eating and wasted more food. When students have recess before lunch, more time is taken for lunch and teachers and researchers noted an improvement in the student’s behavior at lunch time, which carried over to the classroom in the afternoon.

In the United States, the length specified for recess ranges widely, from 20 to 60 minutes per day. However, in other countries, like Japan, school-aged children have a 10 to 15-minute break every hour because they recognize that attention spans in children begin to diminish after 40 to 50 minutes of classroom instruction. Either way, recess should be scheduled at regular intervals, providing children sufficient time to regain their focus before instruction continues.  


The AAP supports free play as a fundamental element of a child’s normal growth and development. Eliminating recess may be counterproductive to academic achievement. Recess promotes not only physical health and social development, but also cognitive performance.

For more ways to keep your kids moving, check out 15 Fun & Free Out of the House Activities with Kids.

Photo Credits: Matthias RippUS Department of Education, Sarah Coggins, EaglebrookSchoolKen

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics

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LaToya

LaToya lives in Illinois with her husband of 19 years and their 2 teenage boys. She works full-time outside of the home while juggling all the last minute add-ons to the family calendar. When she is not attending one of her boy’s baseball or soccer games, she is completing one of many DIY projects that are lying around the house. Since obtaining her Bachelor’s of Arts degree from DePaul University this summer, she is looking forward to more free time to play around in her craft room, or “crap” room as her husband so affectionately refers to it.

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