Kids on the Go

Movement and Recess

Across the country, schools are shortening and even eliminating recess to make time for more classroom instruction. This is largely due to the pressure that schools are under to meet targets for standardized test scores. Kids need regular breaks throughout the day for the self-directed play and movement opportunities that recess offers. However, many children are lucky just to get 20 minutes of recess in a six-hour school day. Research actually shows, though, that children concentrate better and learn more when they are given regular breaks to move their bodies and relax their mind. Of additional concern is the fact that the most vulnerable children -- those receiving reduced-price lunch; minorities; and those in large, urban school districts -- are receiving the shortest recess times. We need to advocate for our children and find ways to get recess back into the school day. Read more about the importance of movement and recess via the resources below..

  • “Rethinking ‘Ultra-Safe’ Playgrounds: Why It’s Time to Bring Back ‘Thrill-Provoking’ Equipment for Kids”
    November 2015

    In this article for The Washington Post, pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom compares the “safe” and usually disappointing playground equipment that fills today’s playgrounds with the sense-stimulating merry-go-rounds, tall swings, and teeter-totters from playgrounds built forty years ago.

  • “The U.S. Recess Predicament: Extraordinary Photos of What We Can Learn from Play in Other Parts of the World”
    October 2015

    From unicycles to security walls, Ariana Eunjung Cha compares recess around the world in this article for The Washington Post.

  • “More Playtime! How Kids Succeed with Recess Four Times a Day at School”
    January 2016

    Christopher Connelly writes for KQED News about Eagle Mountain Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas, where kindergarteners and first-graders get four fifteen-minute recesses each day, tripling the amount scheduled in previous years.

  • “Can a Playground Be Too Safe?”
    July 2011

    In this article for The New York Times, John Tierney looks at playground design over the past decades and discusses the benefits that we give up when perceived safety becomes the driving motivation.

  • “The Government Says Kids Need an Hour of Movement a Day. Actually, They Need a Lot More.”
    June 2016

    In this blog post for The Washington Post, pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom posits that children need more than the government-recommended hour per day of active playtime. Specifically, she recommends at least three hours a day of active playtime, preferably outdoors.

  • “Longer Recess, Stronger Child Development”
    August 2016

    Writing for Edutopia, Angela Hanscom elaborates on why kids need recess sessions that last longer than the usual twenty minutes.

  • “School Ditches Rules and Loses Bullies”
    January 2014

    Marika Hill writes for Stuff about a school in Auckland, New Zealand, that has been involved in an unusual but successful experiment. The school abandoned playground rules and embraced risk taking. Anti-social behavior decreased as kids became busy with things that once would have been deemed too “risky”.

  • “Exercise Is ADHD Medication”
    September 2014

    This article by James Hamblin in The Atlantic discusses three studies that link exercise to improved brain function in all children and also suggest that exercise may moderate the effects of ADHD.

  • “Today’s Four-Year-Olds Often ‘Not Physically Ready’ for School, Experts Warn”
    September 2016

    Rachael Pells, Education Correspondent for The Independent, discusses new research indicating that an increasing number of four-year-olds are not physically ready to start school, with over 90 per cent demonstrating some movement difficulty.

  • “Learning Through Play: Education Does Not Stop When Recess Begins.”
    September 2016

    Emily Deruy writes in The Atlantic about the decline of recess and the nonprofit Playwork’s role in its recent resurgence.  She discusses the importance of helping all children feel welcome to join in play, helping teachers and administrators see recess as more than a “headache”, structured versus unstructured play, and the value of recess as part of every school’s curriculum. 

  • “A Research-Based Case for Recess”
    November 2013

    This article by Olga S. Jarrett with Clemson’s US Play Coalition discusses the benefits of recess (many not-so-obvious) and explains children’s real physical need for recess.  The author points out alarming trends, like an overall decrease in recess time nationwide and the unfortunate practice of withholding recess as punishment.  She also explains how these trends affect children in different socioeconomic groups.

  • “Recess Rules: Why the Undervalued Playtime May Be America’s Best Investment for Healthy Kids and Healthy Schools”
    September 2007

    This report from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation looks at ways to increase structured, adult-led, physical play for kids. The goal is for children to learn about rule making and conflict resolution so that they can eventually engage in healthy play on their own, creating safe, positive playgrounds.

  • “The State of Play: Gallup Survey of Principals on School Recess”
    February 2010

    This report from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation presents results from a Gallup poll of school principals. The results indicate that principals think that recess has a positive impact on learning and on developing social skills but that recess is difficult to manage. Based on the results of the poll, the report makes recommendations on how to improve recess.

  • “Increasing Physical Activity Through Recess”
    January 2012

    In this brief, Active Living Research presents evidence that recess is beneficial to children, yet time devoted to recess is decreasing. The group presents policy recommendations on how to get recess back into the school day and how to effectively use it to increase children’s physical activity levels.

  • “Nature, Childhood, Health and Life Pathways”
    February 2009

    This paper from the University of Essex’s Interdisciplinary Center for Environment and Society (iCES) studies the benefits of both nature and physical activity to children at different stages of development and presents best-practices for incorporation into public policy and urban design.

  • Robert Woods Johnson Foundation

    RWJF is the largest philanthropy in the United States that is devoted solely to health. One of their focus areas is on ending the obesity epidemic, particularly by helping kids achieve and maintain healthy weight. In their efforts to do this, they have commissioned studies on recess and movement and offer policy recommendations on ways to increase children’s physical activity levels.

  • Playworks

    Playworks aims to make recess a positive experience for all parties involved – children, teachers, and school principals. In doing so, Playworks hopes to achieve their mission: “to improve the health and well-being of children by increasing opportunities for physical activity and safe, meaningful play.”

  • Pop-Up Adventure Play

    This organization supports children’s play by offering Playwork training, encouraging Pop-Up Playgrounds, and providing resources for parents.

  • TimberNook

    Run by pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom, TimberNook offers outdoor play programs for children. The TimberNook blog covers many topics, including active play, vestibular input, nature programming, sensory work, and outdoor exploration.

  • Book: Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children

    Pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom presents the case that outdoor play and unstructured movement are crucial to childhood development.