Navigation Menu+

Agitate for everyday recess


Sabrina Runyon, principal of Lenore K-8 in Mingo County, reconfigured the daily schedule to give every child an additional 18 minutes of recess, as part of their lunchtime. “To make it work, we walked through it and drilled at the beginning of school,” she said. “Now everybody follows the schedule, and it works. We’re a well-oiled machine.” Photo: Kate Long



West Virginia law does not require schools to provide recess. Many children get little or no recess. A 2011 survey of 1,800 elementary schools found about a third were not offering recess to their third grade classes. In several studies, principals said that the demands of the federal No Child Left Behind Act forced them to cut regular recess.

Think about this: Nearly one in four fifth-graders have high blood pressure. Nearly one in three are obese. Those numbers come from West Virginia University 2012 screenings.

Research also shows that physical activity and breaks actually help children’s academic performance and behavior. 

Many medical groups have urged states to require regular recess as a way of fighting childhood obesity and future heart trouble.

  • In January 2013, the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) warned against the loss of recess and physical activity in children’s school day. “The crucial role of recess in schools,” was published in the journal Pediatrics. Recess is as important to a child’s development as math or reading are, the AAP stated.

    IMG_4821Runyon on playgrd

    “We’ve seen a dramatic drop in our discipline problems since we started giving the kids more time to blow off steam and started using physical activity as a reward,” principal Runyon said. Photo: Kate Long

  • In May 2013, the prestigious Institute of Medicine piled on with a strong report, “Educating the Student Body,” that urged schools to give kids an hour a day of physical activity (recess, P.E., before-and-after-school activity, classroom breaks, etc.) and to make P.E. a core subject.
  • Children who exercise more do better in school, as a whole, they said.
  • In 2012, researchers at the University of Chicago reviewed 14 studies that compared kids who get daily physical activity with those who don’t. The studies found that the kids who got exercise did better in school.

“Physical activity” does not have to happen in physical education class. “Maybe it’s an activity break, stand up every half an hour in class and do something. It might mean going to school by bike … Any kind of physical activity you can think of,” Amika Singh, from VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, told Reuters Health.

More examples of research findings:

  • United States second and third graders who got an extra 90 minutes of physical activity per week did better on a test of spelling, reading and math. They also gained less weight during the three years after the study.
  • Children who got more than 15 minutes a day or exercise behaved better in class, a 2009 study of 11,000 children found.
  • See the 2009 Robert Wood Johnson / Gallup report “The State of Play,” for a more detailed description of these and other research studies.

Still, three out of four of principals say their staff takes away recess as punishment for behavior problems or not finishing work, according to “The State of Play.” The American Academy of Pediatricians and Institute of Medicine call that practice counterproductive. “It’s the kids who have trouble concentrating that need recess more than anybody else, and they are the ones less likely to get it,” said Olga Jarrett, associate early childhood education professor at Georgia State University and leading recess researcher.

“There’s this assumption that if you keep kids working longer, they will learn more,” Jarett said. “It’s misguided.” No research shows test scores go up if children stay in class longer. Much research shows recess benefits children in cognitive, social-emotional, and physical ways, she said.

Research does show that when children have recess, they:

– are less fidgety and more on task – have improved memory and more focused attention

– develop more brain connections – learn negotiation skills – exercise leadership, teach games, take turns, and learn to resolve conflicts – are more physically active before and after school

All these impacts were re-confirmed by a 2013 Stanford University survey of teachers in 22 cities.


What can parents and others do if they want regular recess at their schools?




Arm yourself with major research and policy statements, so you can present a good case:


Related Try This pages: Get those schoolkids moving, jump rope, hula hoops and other fun activities, afterschool activities, Girls on the Run

Have something to add to this page? Write it in “reply” below, with your contact info, in case we have questions.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *