Making the case for recess

It is that time of year again. Children across the country are headed back to the classroom for another year of school. For many kids their day at school will include reading, writing, and arithmetic, but unfortunately, not recess. Despite the increasing number of research studies showing the importance of recess, a significant number of schools have cut back or eliminated playtime all together.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued a position statement, telling schools and parents that recess is a crucial part of the school day. They summarize their report by saying “Recess serves as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom. But equally important is the fact that safe and well-supervised recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits that may not be fully appreciated when a decision is made to diminish it. Recess is unique from, and a complement to, physical education—not a substitute for it. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic purposes.”

While we need to acknowledge the importance of recess, we also need to understand administrators’ concerns about recess. Many principals report that 90 percent of all discipline problems happen during recess. There are schools with inadequate and unsafe spaces for recess, which might contribute to the problem. Another challenge is that school staff members do not regularly receive proper training in recess supervision. I suggest that instead of eliminating recess because of the problems, it is time to fix the problems causing it to be cut.

If you are interested in learning how you can help reinstate recess, here are a few organizations that offer training, programming, ideas for space, and more:

Peaceful Playgrounds has a philosophy that most playground problems can be synthesized into five main areas, which they call the Peaceful Playgrounds Creed. These problems and the solutions make up the Peaceful Playgrounds Recess Program. The problems are: conflict resolution, rules, equipment, expectations and designs. To this end, Peaceful Playgrounds offers materials to help you start your own “Right to Recess” Campaign. It includes a webinar, speaker’s guide, tips to get you started, and tons of resources about the value of recess and play. Their website is rich with resources regarding recess advocacy, research, grant ideas, and on-line training.

Since 1996, Playworks has worked on-site with low-income schools, engineering a powerful system of play that is making a daily difference where it is most needed. Playworks builds play and physical activity into a positive school environment, offering opportunities throughout the entire day. They focus on five key areas: organized recess, leadership development, class game time, interscholastic/developmental sports leagues, and out-of-school programs. They accomplish this by assigning a full- time coach to each school. For schools that are interested in their program, but are not low-income, Playworks offers a variety of training programs for school staff. Playworks’ website also offers a lot of information about the importance of play.

If you want to start advocating for saving recess in your community, our friends at KaBOOM! offer these suggestions:

  • The Alliance for Childhood offers a great Play Resource List to help make a case for recess.
  • The Healthy Schools Campaign recognizes recess as an important component to “school wellness” and includes it in a comprehensive online guide to achieving school wellness. It all starts with creating a Wellness Team that involves parents, students, teachers, the school nurse, and the principal, among others.
  • The International Play Association offers a list of recess advocates by state who are ready to help. If your state doesn’t have a recess advocate, you can apply to be one yourself.

Every child deserves recess! Does your community school have recess?

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