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October 20, 2017

From rowdy to ready to learn: The cognitive, physical, and social-emotional benefits of daily recess

Any teacher knows the signs. It starts with a rustle here, a giggle there—and suddenly, the whole class is off task. Hopefully, the restlessness will kick in just before recess, and the kids will be able to run off some energy before returning to class refreshed. But many teachers across the country have had to find another approach—for many classes, recess may mean just a short break, or may only be scheduled on certain days of the week.


As schools have emphasized the importance of literacy and mathematics in recent years, many schedules have been adapted to accommodate increased time devoted to tested subjects. Along with oft-lamented cuts to arts and music programs, daily recess has faced challenges of its own.

This month, experts have weighed in to reiterate what teachers already know to be true: recess is good for kids. It supports cognitive and social-emotional development, and helps kids return to the classroom ready to learn.

A study out this month adds more evidence to support the belief widely held by teachers that students will be more focused after taking a ‘brain break’ at recess. The study’s authors tested third-, fourth- and fifth-graders and found that the children had significantly higher measures of sustained attention after recess than before. Even students who did not participate in intensely active play and instead used recess as a time to socialize showed cognitive benefits, suggesting that the mental break away from the classroom is perhaps the most significant aspect of recess. Additionally, students build social-emotional skills by playing and socializing at recess in ways that complement their learning in the classroom. Active games and sports, role playing and imagination, and even chatting with friends develop skills like cooperation, problem solving, and sharing—all valuable skills that may not be directly taught in the traditional classroom.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has also expressed clear support for daily recess: not only is the mental break beneficial for students to recharge and process their learning throughout the day, but active play also comes with clear physical benefits. The CDC recommends that children get 60 minutes of physical activity every day, but few students meet this guideline. This level of activity helps build strong bones, muscles, and hearts, and improves memory and concentration. Because many students are not sufficiently physically active outside of school, providing an environment during the school day where students have the opportunity to play during recess helps every child meet their daily physical activity goals, encouraging them to build and benefit from a healthy body.

Teachers already know it, and the evidence supports it: kids are more able to focus after recess. But the benefits don’t stop there. Recess helps kids develop cognitively by allowing them a break to process what they’ve learned. Students who participate in active play build healthy bodies, and even students who choose to socialize during recess develop important social-emotional skills. When students start to become antsy in class, the mental break of daily recess can help them internalize what they have already learned and prepare to absorb new material.

February 4, 2010

The truth about recess is out there

Once again perception wins out over reality, even in the Washington Post. In a recent article about the importance of physical education, the reporters made this familiar claim:

Others [schools] have responded to No Child Left Behind’s mandate to raise student test scores by stealing time from P.E.

And this quote is in the article from Stephen Jefferies, president of the National Association of Sport and Physical Education Association:

With No Child Left Behind, one of the things that was left behind was physical education.

It’s a great sound bite, but unfortunately, this all-too-often recited claim is isn’t backed up by data. As a matter of fact, the Center’s report Time out: Is recess in danger? found physical education  and recess are still alive and well in our public schools. The reports found just about all elementary school students are receiving daily exercise at school, whether through recess or physical education.

It is true that 20% of districts decreased recess time and 9% decreased physical education time since NCLB, but students in those schools still received as much daily exercise time as students in most other districts. So it appears districts that decreased their physical education and recess time were districts that had provided more time than most other districts.

While recess isn’t dying, it is true that poor and minority students are less likely to have daily exercise than their white and higher-income peers. And there is a clear link between a child’s health and his or her academic performance.

So schools interested in raising test scores should think twice about cutting recess or physical education time. It may be in schools’ best interest to increase the time or to use the time they have more wisely to ensure their students are in the best shape possible to learn. However, districts should make these decisions based on facts, not on unsubstantiated claims that recess and physical education are dying.  – Jim Hull

For more information about child obesity and schools check out NSBA’s School Health Programs.

Filed under: recess — Tags: , — Jim Hull @ 2:20 pm

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