George Lucas Educational Foundation
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

As we look at ways to create environments that allow teaching and learning to thrive, it's time to take a long, hard look at the critical role of recess in our schools. Recess has the potential to transform schools, and groups are finally speaking out about the powerful role it has in the school day, including the American Academy of Pediatrics which, earlier this year, released a policy statement to this effect.

Proven Benefits

More and more research underscores the invaluable and positive impact recess can have on teaching and learning. In early 2009, researcher Romina Barros of Einstein College found that third grade students who had at least 15 minutes of recess every day behaved better in the classroom than their peers who did not get daily recess.

A safe and healthy recess has tremendous potential, not only to get our children more physically active, but also to support social and emotional learning, preempt bullying and develop the invaluable "soft skills" our kids need to become thriving adults. Through play, students learn teamwork, cooperation, empathy and more.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) underscores the benefits of learning these critical skills. Students who receive social-emotional learning instruction, such as teaching skills for safe and inclusive play at recess, have more positive attitudes in school and improved academic achievement.

Recently, Mathematica Policy Research and Stanford University's John Gardner Center released the results of a randomized control study which found that investing in recess and organized play can prevent bullying, improve students' behavior at recess and their readiness for class, and provide more time for teaching and learning.

Developing a safe and healthy recess may take time, but the effort is clearly worth it to develop students who are not only more physically active, but also have improved social and emotional skills, feel that they're a more connected part of the community, experience less bullying and exclusionary behavior and receive more class time.



Five Steps to a Recess-Friendly Playground

To create a healthy recess, begin by taking a step back and examining the schoolyard. Take an in-depth look at what is working and what is not. With a team of teachers, staff, parent volunteers and student leaders, ask yourself the hard questions. How much time do kids get to play? How do students transition to and from the playground? Where do the students play? What equipment is available and what games do they play?

Once you have examined recess, work together to create a space for safe, fun and inclusive play. You may want to start with these five steps:

1. Map the Playground

Determine the students' favorite games and develop a map that provides safe boundaries for play. Create a safe place for ball games where balls aren't kicked or thrown into other games. Allow space for low-key forms of play, such as skipping rope, pretend play and hopscotch. Find a space for an equipment check out/in to ensure that balls and ropes aren't lost. And include space to lead and play new games.

2. Go Play!

When adults model behaviors of respect and inclusion on playground, students feel safe and encouraged to do the same. If you miss the ball in 4-Square, quickly jump back in line with a smile. When you score a basket sending another player to the line, give them a high five and say, "Nice try." It's important not only to model respectful behavior, but also to hold students accountable for meeting the same expectations of positive and inclusive behavior.

3. Teach Fun and Simple Games

When possible, teach students new games in small groups. Games introduce new skills and level the playing field for children whose physical activity skills vary greatly. Great games are rotational, have minimal "out" time and allow children to always have a role in the play. Some of my favorites include Switch, Bandaid Tag and Three Lines Basketball.

4. Teach Conflict Resolution Skills

Teach students Rock Paper Scissors (also known as roshambo) and other conflict resolution techniques. When we teach students to solve their own conflicts, we empower them and make recess (and the class time following recess) much more enjoyable. We see firsthand that when students use Rock Paper Scissors, they quickly resolve the majority of simple playground conflicts. "Was the ball in or out?" Rock Paper Scissors. "Who got in line first?" Rock Paper Scissors.

5. Teach Positive Messages

Encourage positive behavior through high fives and positive language. Acknowledge students' effort by giving a high five, a fist bump or saying something kind, such as, "Good job," or "I like how fast you ran!" each time they participate. Encourage the other students to also pass out high fives and say, "Nice try."

Recess is much more than simply fun and games. When you take the time to examine recess, to build a healthy culture of play where the bullying is reduced, and to give kids a sense of ownership, this fundamentally changes their attitudes about school. And as we look at ways to support our schools and students, this one is worth the long, hard look.

Was this useful?

Comments (7) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

JC's picture
PE K-College

Interesting, sounds like an effective like an effective Physical Education program. This is everything that any effective PE program and teacher implements within each lesson and unit. I guess as we cut PE and other programs we have to implement this through recess, terrific.

Jason Green's picture
Jason Green
1st grade teacher, NY

In our school, the kids are being asked to do more and more each day. I am proud to say that as a team, we highly believe in the benefits that recess has. We try and allow 15-20 minutes each day for recess, and we go outside everyday possible. As long as it is not pouring rain or thundering and lightning, we are outside. I hope this trend can continue in our schools. With so many requirements being sent down from the state, eventually something will have to go.

Courtney's picture
first grade teacher, Memphis, TN

Thanks you for sharing researched based reasons to include recess in the daily schedule. Many teachers feel they do not have time for recess. They are too busy teaching academics. Some view teachers who take students to recess as lazy. Your post helps me feel justified for taking my first graders to recess everyday. I would want my own children to go to recess everyday.

Serenta's picture
Elementary teacher from Memphis, Tennessee

I agree with what was stated in this blog. I have always been a proponent of recess. I really enjoyed the five steps to making recess friendly. These steps are so important when you teacher kindergarten students because often some of them do not know how to share and solve conflicts on their own. Recess is a teachable moment. We must use it.

TODD SENTELL's picture
Author of the hilarious schoolhouse memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave"

Here I am about to jump out of my skin to read the Cherokee memorial to President Andrew Jackson ... and then Old Hickory's response to the Cherokee Nation ... and then the Cherokee Nation's response right back to our big-haired seventh chief executive. Eloquent arguments by eloquent men destined not to be friends.

But Tempest is over there looking out the window on her tip toes for some reason ...

So I don't say anything. And guess what happens when a student looking out of the window says ... What's he doing lying on the ground out there?

Right, they all jump up from their desks and knock things over to go run over there to the window to see who's lying on the ground out there. Just like in that scene from A Christmas Story when everybody runs over to the window to see Flick still out there with his wiggly lingua still stuck to the flag pole.

I ask Tempest who in the heck is lying on the ground out there. Recess is over.


God. Homer.

She says he lying on the ground ... right under the window.

So I get up about as slowly as I can and open my outside door and there is Homer, over to the left of me, just like Tempest said, laying on the ground. Break was over a few minutes ago and we're starting class and there's no one else outside. No one. Expect Homer. Laying on the ground.

But to be fair to Homer, he's lying on the ground ... sure ... but he's technically lying in the flower bed under the window and he's warped--fetal position style--around the bottom of a type of bush you see a lot in landscape scenarios at schools and commercial office buildings and places of worship. It's not a Cherokee Rose, if you were wondering. That's our state flower which comes with a bush and I wouldn't let anybody die under our state flower bush.

The rest of the class is pushing out the door behind me, but I say in my special Satan voice used for certain occasions exactly like this to get back in the room and sit down and shut up ... and then I shut the door with some authority. I looked for fingers. I swear.

Sit down and shut up. Like heck. I can see all the wooden blinds separate and go in all different directions. I also heard giggling.

I go to my training. I let it take over and interfering emotion goes away instantly and efficient thinking and action takes its place. It feels good. With first aid and resuscitation electro-shock training by the local fire department ... and I have a little card in my wallet that certifies that I know how to blow my stale cigar black coffee air and life back into your unconscious body. Anyhow, I first check to see if Homer's awake and responsive. I poke him with a finger.

Homer opens his eyes.

I ask Homer why he's lying under the bush there. You know. All alone.

He says he ran into the side of the building.

For some reason I look up at the building. He's a big 8th grader. He could have knocked a couple of bricks loose and crushed the gutter downspout maybe. I asked him what hurts.

He says his left leg and his back and his head. He says he thinks his left leg might be broken.

I reach into my pocket for my cell phone. I was going to call the school's main number and get the school nurse down here.

Homer's eyeballing me ... he suddenly says don't call anybody.

I said okay. I put my phone back into my pocket. I asked Homer an honest question. I asked him, with a big wave of my arm, how come you ran into the building here when the building has been here the whole school year ... actually for two years ... and the building is real big and has always been real big. I did my arm again.

He said he was running to class at the end of recess and he was looking the other way and ran into the building.

I believed him. I know Homer. If anyone is likely to run into a building, it's Homer. I asked him if he might try getting up.

He said his left leg really hurt.

I'm also thinking he was pushed into the side of the brick hard building. I said I'll help you get on up and if your left leg snaps we'll go from there. I reached out with my right hand and he grabbed it ... and I sort of yanked him up. His back and pants legs and the back of his hair was covered with pine straw and grass and leaves and old mulch. I brushed some of it off as he started limping down the sidewalk. I asked him what his next class was.

He said Helena.

Perfect, I said. We're right here. Helena's outside door was unlocked and I opened the door for Homer.

Helena looked up from her desk for less than a half of a trillionth of a second and back down again. She didn't say a word. Here's Homer being escorted into her classroom by a teacher. Homer is covered with a wide range of school yard botanicals and he's late for class and he's limping and his shirt's untucked and I can't see it but Homer's probably got a frequent expression on his face. Helena knows Homer real well, too.

On my way back to The Cozy Room of Learning I stopped at my door before I went in and looked at where Homer had been recuperating. I could hear them inside all scurrying to their desks. It occurred to me that Homer really had run into the side of the building and he really had been hurt. And he'd been out there for a long time.

Alone. Curled up under a bush.

At the end of the morning recess they all run toward the front door of the school building in a wild wad. Many hyperactive boys. All elbows and knees. With unbridled furiousness and intent.

It finally occurred to me: they left Homer for dead.

Then another heavy thought occurred to me. William Golding's famous 1954 book wasn't a novel. It was nonfiction. And the movie version of his book wasn't a movie. Just like Deliverance, Lord of the Flies was a God dang documentary.

Jill Vialet's picture
Jill Vialet
Founder and CEO of Playworks

Thank you all for the great response. It's wonderful to see so many who see the value of play in our schools!
I wrote a novel for kids ages 8-13 call Recess Rules about a group of fifth graders who save recess at their school. And it's free for download on Kindle through December 17th -

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.