Recess Rescue: Is Your Child Getting Enough Play Time?

Most of us parents remember having three recess times: morning, lunchtime, and afternoon. You got a little exercise, chased your sweetheart, or showed off for your friends by performing death defying feats off the monkey bars. It was a fun break, and we were ready to hit the books again. Now, American children are lucky if they get 20 minutes of recess for the whole day. What happened between then and today?

Lock Down

It may seem like lock down when children are forced to sit and listen to lectures or study in silence for long periods of time. What changed in our schools?

In the 1990s, a movement began to raise academic standards for all 50 states. Around 2009, The Common Core State Standards Initiative was born. Educational standards for grades K-12 in English language arts and mathematics were introduced to ensure schools across the U.S. consistently provided children with the education they needed. The goal: to be ready to enter the workforce, vocational school, or college after graduation.

While there is nothing inherently wrong about all children receiving a good education, it means more time on curriculum and study prep for the standardized tests. When a school scores high marks on the tests, it means props for the school, teacher’s pay, and job status. It became more pressure for children and teachers to get high scores on the tests; and hundreds of schools still failed, even with extra time devoted to lessons.

Your Child's Brain While Sitting

The brain needs fresh blood and oxygen to properly function. When a body sits too long, brain function slows down. After long periods of sitting, foggy brain is noticeable. Stiff neck, slouching, sore shoulders, and back ensue; not exactly conducive to learning. However, when a body is in action, moving muscles pump fresh blood and oxygen through the brain, which triggers a release of brain and mood enhancing chemicals – a good environment for learning.

Playtime IS Learning Time

Recess time isn’t necessarily defined as time on the playground. It is simply a break from one activity to another – whether it is free playtime or structured playtime. Inside or outside, it’s all good. Back in 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics conducted a study and found that play contributes to healthy brain development. In school settings, research showed that play enhances children’s learning readiness, learning behaviors, problem-solving, and fosters school engagement. Furthermore, play and recess can help children to store new information because their cognitive capacity is boosted when they are offered a drastic change in activity.

More Recess = More Attentiveness

Anthony Pellegrini, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota and author of Recess: Its Role in Education and Development, conducted his own studies after observing the positive effects of 10-minute breaks after 40 minutes of instruction had on the students in East Asia. He and his colleagues ran a series of experiments at a public elementary school to investigate the relationship between recess timing and attentiveness in the classroom. Time after time, experiments showed students were more attentive after recess was given on time and were less attentive when recess was delayed. His research also found that regardless of whether it’s indoors or outdoors, recess provided a rest, a recharge, and learning opportunities for communication, cooperation, and compromise skills.

Texas Sized Evidence

More recently, the LiiNK Project (Let’s Inspire Innovation ‘N Kids), launched a research intervention in two Texas private schools (intervention and control school). Students were given two 15-minute unstructured outdoor play times in the morning and again in the afternoon. In addition, three 15-minute character development lessons were given per week. These lessons were woven into the planned curriculum by simply reducing the transition time from lining up for recess, putting things away, etc.

After collecting data for two years, extra recess was shown to improve student discipline. Reading and math skills significantly improved. A remarkable 30% increase on attentional focus in the intervention school students. Positive peer interactions were reflected in their social growth and development from pre to post assessments. All these positive outcomes were observed by not increasing the length of the school day, or taking time away from classroom activities.

What Can You Do?

If you’re concerned about the limited recess time at your school, form a group and launch a petition to change it. A group of Massachusetts parents did just that. The Current and Future Parents of Hopkinton Public Schools are in the process of collecting signatures to increase the 15-minute recess that is currently given to elementary students in Hopkinton schools. You can start a petition at or

If it were up to you, what would the ideal schedule for playtime be at school? 

Tags : school   play   recess   

No Comments.