10 Reasons to Advocate for More Recess in Schools

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Landis
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“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is a terrifying proverb when uttered maniacally by Jack Nicholson, but all work and no play shouldn’t remain a fictional thrill for moviegoers, it should be a scary warning for every parent.


Because all work and no play is exactly what many kids are getting. With the pressure to perform constantly increasing, schools are nixing recess in favor of more classwork. In fact, compared to the 1970s, children spend 50 percent less time in unstructured outdoor activities – including recess.  Expected to remain still and silent while they take in more and more instruction, it’s no wonder kids are getting stressed out, worn out and are acting out.

It’s easy to feel vaguely upset that your kid’s recess has disappeared, but it’s harder to articulate recess’ importance and advocate for its inclusion in the school day. Need a reason to fight for recess? Here are 10:

It Works at Work

Let’s start close to home: If your boss said you could only take a 20-minute, silent, at-your-desk lunch break, would you be happy with that? No!

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what is happening in many classrooms across the United States. Kids of all ages are expected to sit still and work perfectly all day, with only a single, short, silent break for lunch.

Research shows that regular breaks help adult employees boost their creativity and concentration, lower their stress and promote physical health, among other benefits. If you would advocate for those benefits for yourself, why wouldn’t you advocate just as passionately for your kids?

It Promotes Fitness

Physical activity is one of the keys to a healthy lifestyle. It’s not hard to draw connections between an increasing lack of physical activity and the ever-increasing number of childhood obesity cases in the U.S.

Over the past 30 years, childhood obesity has doubled in children (6-11) and quadrupled in adolescents (12-19). Unstructured play during recess provides critical exercise for kids, encouraging them to run, jump and explore. Although PE classes can provide some structured exercise, the importance of opportunities to get active because it’s fun rather than because a teacher told you to can’t be ignored.

It Feeds Their Focus

Lest you think that improved concentration and performance were just benefits of adult work breaks, a Gallup poll of 1,951 elementary school principals is here to set you straight.

The principals were asked for their views on recess and reported an overwhelmingly positive impact on academics. They reported that kids “listened better and were more focused after recess.”

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It Encourages Problem Solving

Do you know why your kids are better at new tech than you are? It’s because they’re not afraid to play, fail and try again until they master it.

That’s why recess is so important. It’s a free period where kids can try new things, allowing them to learn about themselves, others and the world around them naturally and effectively. It’s the unstructured play opportunities at recess that give kids crucial opportunities to master new skills and develop innovation solutions.

It Frees the Imagination

Innovation can’t happen without imagination. That’s why you have to advocate for opportunities for your child to utilize their imagination. A day spent sitting still in a classroom doesn’t provide the same scope for the imagination that a half hour swinging on the monkey bars or running through the grass does.

By stretching those imagination muscles now, kids develop the open and creative minds they’ll need to tackle life as an adult.

It Supplements Classroom Learning

With so much pressure on schools to teach to the test and secure funding needs through test scores, it’s no wonder that seemingly nonessential activities like recess are the first to go.

However, even putting aside recess’s benefits on focus and problem solving, recess isn’t wasted time. If anything, play should be viewed as a supplement to or extension of classroom learning.

A chance to get out in nature and explore the world around them gives kids a chance to take what they’re learning in the classroom from theory to practice. It could be as simple as a preschooler identifying new colors in autumn leaves or an elementary schooler observing weather patterns they just discussed in science class.

It Teaches Risk Management

Testing pressures are only one of the reasons schools are turning their backs on recess. There’s also the fear of liability over playground injuries.

Playground injuries are unfortunately inevitable. You can’t make any playtime 100 percent risk free and still allow room for physical play and limitless imagination. However, risk is part of what makes recess important. Kids need opportunities to assess risks for themselves and learn to make their own decisions about which rewards are worth it and which aren’t.

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It Creates Friendships

For kids and adults alike, shared activities make for fantastic icebreakers. At recess, kids can forge the fledgling bonds of friendship through cooperative games like hopscotch, foursquare or kickball, through games of make believe or simply by swinging side by side.

These icebreaking activities give them a starting point for building friendships that will carry over inside the classroom and outside of school grounds.

It Fosters Cooperation

Cooperation is a critical, fundamental life skill, one that – unfortunately – many adults still lack. That’s why it’s so important that kids have a chance to develop that skill early.

Recess requires cooperation for it to be fun. Kids have to navigate shared games, sports and works of make believe. By working together to act out their imagination or complete a game, kids get the chance to hone a lifelong skill.

It Instills Social Skills

Cooperation isn’t the only social skill kids learn on the playground. Kids also learn how to take turns, share, be respectful of others, negotiate, work out disputes and reconcile differences.

Like cooperation, these are all critical skills that help kids grow into responsible, positive, functioning adults.

Why advocate for more recess in your child’s school? With so many academic and lifelong benefits to its credit, you’d have a harder time coming up with a single reason why you shouldn’t.

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