The Importance of Recess and Play
"Physical education and physical activity both contribute to the development of healthy, active children. However, many today are confused about what exactly physical education and physical activity are. Physical activity is not analogous to physical education. Physical education programs offer the best opportunity to provide physical activity to all children and to teach them the skills and knowledge needed to establish and sustain an active lifestyle. Instruction in this curricular area is delivered in the school setting by qualified teachers who assess student knowledge, motor and social skills in a safe, supportive environment. Physical education teaches youth how to be physically active in safe, equitable and healthful ways" (NASPE Resource Brief: The Difference Between Physical Education and Physical Activity).
Information and Resources on Play
Research Articles on the Importance of Recess
- A Research-Based Case for Recess. Jarrett, O. (2013). US PLAY Coalition: "The white paper presents decades of research on the value of recess to academic performance, physical fitness, and social competency."
- Give me a Break! Can Strategic Recess Scheduling Increase On-Task Behavior for First Graders? Fagerstrom, T., & Mahoney, k. (2006). Ontario Action Researcher, 9(2): "The purpose of this study was to determine whether
strategically scheduled recess breaks throughout the school day will increase
student on-task behaviors during the time when they work independently. As an
intervention for this action research study, recess breaks were given more
often but for less time; recess breaks were scheduled before and after academic
lessons throughout the whole day. Methodology included observations with
checklist and field notes. Results of the study suggest that recess breaks
scheduled directly before or after academic lessons positively affect student
- Impact of Safe Routes to School Programs on Walking and Biking. (2015). Active Living Research: Research review on the impact of safe routes to school programs.
- Is the Elimination of Recess in School a Violation of a Child's Basic Human Rights? Dubroc, A.M. (2007): "The elimination of recess in schools across the country is becoming a normal occurrence in many communities, large and small. In each study presented in this content analysis, we find that free time and unstructured play is indeed essential to a child’s healthy cognitive development. Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children, from the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights guarantees our children the right to play and the right to take breaks, very similar to how the United States Department of Labor ensures workers in this country the right to have breaks in the work day. For school age children, breaks are essential to not only healthy cognitive development, but to help reduce or eliminate stress and the promotion of a sedentary lifestyle, which can lead to depression, obesity, suicide or overall poor mental health."
- Playing Fair: The Contribution of High-Functioning Recess to Overall School Climate in Low-Income Elementary Schools. London, R. A., Westrich, L., Stokes-Guinan, K. and McLaughlin, M. (2015). Journal of School Health, 85: 53–60: "We examine 6 low-income elementary schools' experiences implementing a recess-based program designed to provide safe, healthy, and inclusive play to study how improving recess functioning can affect school climate. Findings: Recess is an important part of the school day for contributing to school climate. Creating a positive recess climate helps students to be engaged in meaningful play and return to class ready to learn.
- Recess in Elementary School: What Does the Research Say? ERIC Digest. Jarret, O.S., & ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education, Champaign, IL. (2002). Children's Research Center, University of Illinois: "Compared to the rest of the school day, recess is a time
when children have more freedom to choose what they want to do and with whom.
In light of the current climate of school accountability, this digest discusses
research on recess and its relationship to learning, social development, and
child health, as well as research on related topics that have implications for
recess policy such as the need for breaks and physical activity. It also
reviews the relationships between recess and learning, recess and social
development, and recess and child health noting that available research
suggests that recess can play an important role in these three areas of
- School Recess and Group Classroom Behavior. Barros, R., Silver, E., & Stein, R. (2009). Pediatrics, 123(2), 431-436: "These results indicated that, among 8- to 9-year-old
children, having >= 1 daily recess period of >15 minutes in length was
associated with better teacher's rating of class behavior scores. This study
suggests that schoolchildren in this age group should be provided with daily
- School Recess and Social Development. Jambor, T. (1994): "Both school day memories and recent research support the
need and value of recess. Recess sets the occasion for play and subsequent
social encounters that influence and nurture all other areas of development.
Recess is an important counter to rigorous academic curricula and expectations
for on-task behavior. Recess allows teachers to observe and evaluate children's
social interactions and behavior and to respond accordingly. Recess offers
children a chance to be children; to do child-like things; to claim a time
during the day to call their own. I can still hear that predictable question by
the visiting relative, 'What do you like best about school?' The
inevitable reply, 'recess!'"
- School Recess: Implications for Education and Development. Pellegrini, A.D., & Smith, P.K. (1993). Review of Educational Research, 63(1)51-67: "In this article the empirical research on the role of school recess is reviewed. Recess is first defined, and then the effects of child-level variables (e.g., gender, age, and temperament) and school-level variables (e.g., recess timing and duration) on children's recess behavior are reviewed. The implications of recess are discussed in terms of impact on classroom behavior and on measures of social and cognitive competence. It is concluded that recess has important educational and developmental implications."
- The Critical Place of Play in Education. Stegelin, D., Fite, K., and Wisneski, D. (2015). US PLAY Coalition: "The white paper is a research collaboration, between the US Play Coalition and the Association of Childhood Education International, on the importance of play in education."
- The Crucial Role of Recess in Schools. Ramstetter, C.L., Murray, R., & Garner, A.S. (2010). The Journal of School Health, 80(11), 517-526: "Recess serves a critical role in school as a necessary break from the rigors of academic challenges. Recess is a complement to, not a replacement for, physical education. Both promote activity and a healthy lifestyle; however, recess—particularly unstructured recess and free play—provides a unique contribution to a child's creative, social, and emotional development. From the perspective of children's health and well-being, recess time should be considered a child's personal time and should not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons."
- The Role of Recess in Children's Cognitive Performance and School Adjustment. Pellegrini, A.D., & Bohn, C.M. (2005). Educational Researcher, 34(1), 13-9: "The authors suggest that the recess period serves a positive purpose in the primary school curriculum, counter to the current practice of minimizing recess in many schools across North America and the United Kingdom. The authors' position is embedded in the larger debate about school accountability; they argue that school policy should be based on the best theory and empirical evidence available. They support their argument for the importance of recess with theory and with experimental and longitudinal data showing how recess breaks maximize children's cognitive performance and adjustment to school."
- The State of Play. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (2010). Playworks. Recommendations are given based on Gallup Pol results on recess.
- When Children Play, They Feel Better: Organized. Badura, P., Geckova, A., Sigmundova, D., van Dijk, J., and Reijneveld, S. (2015). BMC Public Health: "Participation in organized leisure time activity is associated with better physical and mental health in adolescents."