Reasons for Recess – Kelly Ilseng

    During Math centers, three boys are play fighting. Two girls are building houses with their manipulatives instead of counting them.  A boy is running to grab an eraser, another is playing in the bathroom.  One girl stares out the window. The class didn’t have recess today due to state mandated testing.

Every year new programs, initiatives, and requirements are added to a classroom schedule, and minutes are often taken from recess to compensate.  Recess is an important part of the school day, and children’s education suffers when it is compromised.  Often in today’s society importance has a quantitative value. What is the child’s DRA level?  What was their TEMI score?  Did they make a passing grade on the STAAR test?  Value that cannot be measured in quantitative worth is often ignored or pushed aside.  Although the value of recess may not be measured in quantitative numbers, recess enhances students social and emotional skills, allows for exploration in nature, and increases academic performance in the classroom.

         Recess provides a unique opportunity to apply the social skills kids learn in the classroom to real life situations. Taking turns, playing fairly, and resolving conflicts are essential to social development.  One might argue that these skills could be learned in the classroom.  The classroom is a structured environment that has limited free choice activities.  There is often a correct and incorrect way of performing a classroom task, therefore differences in opinion and preference are limited.  During recess, the freedom of choice is much greater.  Children can choose what they want to play, how they want to play, and whom to play with.  There are no rights and wrongs in a game, unlike in a classroom setting.  At recess, the teacher doesn’t decide the rules to made up games, such as whether or not the princess can run away, or fly, or cast magic spells. These games encourage imagination skills and drama, and therefore require the art of compromise.  Classrooms have set group members, guidelines, and deadlines, which do not allow for flexibility.  In contrast, if a child is not cooperating with peers at recess, they have the freedom to stop the activity or walk away.  The child that was being difficult then learns the valuable lesson that refusal to cooperate results in loss of support and friendship. Recess creates a community that is based on emotional bonds rather than teacher expectations. Children have the opportunity to assist each other and work out problems without teacher scaffolding.  Recess provides time to practice the social and emotional skills that all children will need to use throughout their lives.

         Recess also provides time for tactile, student-led exploration of the natural world.  Science topics come to life.  Students observe how plants grow, how weather changes, and how animals behave.  The learning is implicit; it is controlled by the children through experimentation and prior knowledge.  Organic conversations about seed disbursement arise as children dig through the dirt. Without teacher assistance, children notice force and motion on the swings and slides.  Climate change and global warming are threats that will affect our future generations more than past generations.  How can one expect a child to understand or care about the importance of environmental sustainability when they have no relationship with the natural world?  When teachers replace recess with indoor play, children are deprived of quality time outside.  Many students in urban environments do not have opportunity to play outdoors outside of school.   During recess, children will bond with their natural world, and this bond will reinforce science concepts and provide a foundation for environmental protection.  Children gain therapeutic comfort in feeling soil in their hands, watching ants carry crumbs, and hearing leaves crunch under their feet.

        Studies show that students who have recess perform better in the classroom than those that have structured play time.  “A student’s ability to refocus cognitively was shown to be stimulated more by the break from the classroom than by the mode of activity that occurred during that break; any type of activity at recess benefited cognitive performance afterward.”  Recess provides time for students to unwind. It is a change from a structured environment to an unstructured one.  Physical exercise is proven to help a person relieve stress and anxiety, sleep better, and improve behavior.  Recess provides both a physical and mental break from the otherwise rigid daily schedule.  While some students experience success throughout the day in the classroom through their academics achievements, others may find academics stressful, difficult, and frustrating.  Because academics encompass the majority of the waking hours in a child’s day, it is important for children who do not find success in academics to have other positive outlets. It is no wonder that many students say “recess” is their favorite subject.  Schools with reduced recess time often see more behavior issues, both physical and emotional, and decreased academic success.  

        Recess is essential to a well balanced daily schedule. It is beneficial to the whole child.  “Recess also functions successfully as an established school-based activity and should be carefully considered as part of any school health and wellness policy.  A survey conducted by the PTA showed that nine out of 10 teachers say recess and the free time spent with peers is an important part of the school day and is crucial to a child’s social and emotional development.”

Recess increases students social, emotional, environmental, and academic understanding.  When time is cut from recess, children miss out on a unique and valuable opportunity that cannot be replicated in the classroom.  


  1. Stellino MB, Sinclair CD.  Intrinsically motivated, free-time physical activity: considerations for recess. J Phys Educ, Recreat Dance. 2008;79(4):37–40  via “The Crucial Role of Recess in School”

2. Peaceful Playgrounds; Right to Recess Campaign