A Case for Recess


There is a misconception in our society that recess serves no real purpose. This misconception has caused unnecessary debate and uninformed decisions that have cut recess from some schools in lieu of spending more time in the classroom. The most predominantly affected areas are those in urban areas, which show a great disparity between suburban schools.

To me, it seems we live in an era where adults have forgotten their childhood days. Is it possible that too many of us completely forgot Neverland once we left? Has the lure of the mundane been so strong that we’ve forgotten the joys of being carefree? Believe it or not, the word recess is not an alien word in adult vocabulary, nor an abnormal response to physical and mental needs. A few examples….

  • Judges call recess when people begin to tire in court proceedings.

  • Congressional sessions recess for similar reasons during intense legislation.

  • Labor unions lobbied for breaks so that workers wouldn’t tire and get injured on the job.

  • Jobs give lunch breaks and other breaks during the day for similar reasons.

  • More progressive companies provide exercise and recess rooms for their employees.

Sadly, as adults, we seem to take the approach that school work, class time, and test prep is more important than giving children time to play. I challenge you to walk up to any 2nd graders and ask him/her the following questions. “What’s your favorite part of the school day?” I can almost guarantee the response will be recess, playtime, or PE. Free play, recess, PE, or whatever you want to call it, has tremendous physical, social, and emotional benefits for children, adolescents, and even adults. These benefits are listed below.

  • Recess/play-time serves as a way to reduce anxiety. Children have a limited number of coping strategies. This is why you see biting, outbursts, tantrums, etc. Recess provides an outlet and means to reducing stressors.

  • Recess/play-time allows students to interact and have exchanges with students of diverse cultural backgrounds.

  • Recess/play-time also allows for solitary play. Some children need to detach themselves from the group or classmates to collect their thoughts and relax.

  • Recess/play-time is a premier opportunity to assess a child’s peer relationships.

  • Unstructured play-time gives students an opportunity to be curious, wonder, explore and be creative. Hopefully, there was a time in your childhood where you would imagine the playground as a vast foreign landscape that you were eager to explore.

  • The mind, brain, and body are connected. Recess/playtime allows the body’s heart the opportunity to pump fresh oxygenated blood to nourish a sluggish brain. I rarely throw my opinions into these blogs, but I personally believe each school day should begin with free-play and/or PE. Four days a week I start my day at the gym and my mental alertness is much higher during those days.

With so many benefits, why would school officials, board member, or government representatives ever limit recess time? It’s because recess can’t be scored. They are correct in this assumption because it is very hard to score happiness, curiosity, and relationship building. It’s easy to score something you bubble.

Each of us is born with a natural curiosity about the world. We begin life knowing nothing. As we grow, we learn through play, interactions, and experimentation. Take the child that just pulled the pots and pans out of the cabinet. He/she is sitting there beating on them with a wooden spoon and it’s driving you crazy. As an adult, you may possibly be inclined to scold or discipline the child for doing such a thing. But, to the child, it’s music. The brain is making connections and learning that a big pot makes a different sound than a small pot. The metal bowl produces a higher tone than the wood bowl. This scenario plays out in many variations throughout a child’s life. Don’t stop it because you don’t do it any longer. If it’s not dangerous, let the experiment run its course. Your child will thank you one day. But, what do I know compared to administrators and legislators? After all, I’m just a father and an educator. Below is what the experts say.

  • Children should have 60 minutes of physical activity a day. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; American Academy of Pediatrics)

  • Recess is an essential component of education and should be part of the curriculum for preschool through elementary school. (National Association of early Childhood Specialist in State Departments of Education)

  • All elementary school children should be provided at least one daily period of recess of at least 20 minutes. (National Association for Sport and Physical Education)

  • Children need both Physical Education and Recess. (National Association for Sport and Physical Education; National Association of Elementary School Principals; National Association of State Boards of Education)

  • Recess should not be taken away as punishment. (American Academy of Pediatrics; National Association for Sport and Physical Education)

  • Principals should promote the development and maintenance of appropriately supervised free play for children during the school day. (National Association of Elementary School Principals)

As you can see, recess/play-time has tremendous benefits to childhood development. Each child, each day, should have the opportunity to embrace nature, their peers, and curiosity in an open arena. This arena should be free from the stresses of academia, testing, and classrooms. After all, we are each born a scientist, let us learn, explore, and play.


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