The Crucial Role of Recess In School

As I am going through some times of adjustment for my second-grade son it has caused me to consider the whole picture. What are the behaviors that are a concern and what are some possible solutions to the concerns? The main issue seems to be his restlessness during the mid to late afternoon part of the school day.

When I asked how much recess and play time he was getting the answer  was somewhat disturbing. As a second-grader, he is allowed 20 minutes of unstructured play after eating lunch at 11:00am. So when the energy from his lunch kicks in about 1:00pm he becomes restless and is described as “off-task”.

David R Taylor

29 Year Teacher, Coach, and Principal

I did a little research and found the following article written by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Here are some of the key points:

The Benefits of Recess for the Whole Child

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines recess as “regularly scheduled periods within the elementary school day for unstructured physical activity and play.”
  • recent surveys and studies have indicated a trend toward reducing recess to accommodate additional time for academic subjects in addition to its withdrawal for punitive or behavioral reasons.
  • the period allotted to recess decreases as the child ages and is less abundant among children of lower socioeconomic status and in the urban setting.
  • Recess represents an essential, planned respite from rigorous cognitive tasks. It affords a time to rest, play, imagine, think, move, and socialize.
  • After recess, for children or after a corresponding break time for adolescents, students are more attentive and better able to perform cognitively.
  • In addition, recess helps young children to develop social skills that are otherwise not acquired in the more structured classroom environment.

Social and Emotional Benefits

  • 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 skill.
  • Through play at recess, children learn valuable communication skills, including negotiation, cooperation, sharing, and problem-solving as well as coping skills, such as perseverance and self-control.
  • Recess offers a child a necessary, socially structured means for managing stress.

Duration and Timing of Recess

  • The majority of elementary schools that offer lunch-time recess do so after the students eat lunch
  • When students have recess before lunch, more time is taken for lunch and less food is wasted. In addition, teachers and researchers noted an improvement in the student behavior at meal time, which carried into the classroom in the afternoon.
  • To maximize cognitive benefits, recess should be scheduled at regular intervals, providing children sufficient time to regain their focus before instruction continues.


  • Time previously dedicated to daily activity in school, such as physical education and recess, is being reallocated to make way for additional academic instruction.
  • Ironically, minimizing or eliminating recess may be counterproductive to academic achievement, as a growing body of evidence suggests that recess promotes not only physical health and social development but also cognitive performance.
  • Although recess and physical education both promote activity and a healthy lifestyle, it is only supervised but unstructured recess that offers children the opportunity to actually play creatively.
  • On the basis of an abundance of scientific studies, withholding recess for punitive or academic reasons would seem to be counterproductive to the intended outcomes and may have unintended consequences in relation to a child’s acquisition of important life skills.


In their role as child health experts, the pediatricians of the AAP stress the following perspective to parents, teachers, school administrators, and policy makers:

  1. Recess is a necessary break in the day for optimizing a child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development. In essence, recess should be considered a child’s personal time, and it should not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons.

  2. Cognitive processing and academic performance depend on regular breaks from concentrated classroom work. This applies equally to adolescents and to younger children. To be effective, the frequency and duration of breaks should be sufficient to allow the student to mentally decompress.

  3. Recess is a complement to, but not a replacement for, physical education. Physical education is an academic discipline. Whereas both have the potential to promote activity and a healthy lifestyle, only recess (particularly unstructured recess) provides the creative, social, and emotional benefits of play.

  4. Recess can serve as a counterbalance to sedentary time and contribute to the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day, a standard strongly supported by AAP policy as a means to lessen risk of overweight.

  5. Whether structured or unstructured, recess should be safe and well supervised. Although schools should ban games and activities that are unsafe, they should not discontinue recess altogether just because of concerns connected with child safety. Environmental conditions, well-maintained playground equipment, and well-trained supervisors are the critical components of safe recess.

  6. Peer interactions during recess are a unique complement to the classroom. The lifelong skills acquired for communication, negotiation, cooperation, sharing, problem-solving, and coping are not only foundations for healthy development but also fundamental measures of the school experience.

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