Recess is a break worth fighting for

Last week the American Academy of Pediatrics released a position statement asserting that recess never be withheld as a punishment or for academic reasons because the break serves a “crucial role” in a child’s development and social interaction.

Most parents who have school-age children probably make the assumption that their children have recess daily and that occasionally it is taken away for one or more of those reasons — not seeing there being a danger in its occasional withdrawal. After all, the parents of students today all had recess and could probably remember a time when it was withdrawn for various reasons. I remember very vividly, Sr. Immaculata making me sit on the bench during recess because I forgo describe the image t my spelling homework for the day. I never forgot it again.

What most parents don’t realize, however, is that many schools no longer have recess and of those that do, some have it for less than 20 minutes a day. These are the same schools that have reduced or eliminated physical education.  And these schools are in the same neighborhoods where parents no longer allow their children to play outside.  We have systematically created a society where there is little or no opportunity for movement, let alone, free play.  The most glaring result of this new reality is the growing rates of obesity. We know that this generation has a life expectancy LESS than those of their parents. We also know that over 25% of Boston youth are considered overweight or obese.  Let’s not consider obesity right now; let’s think about some of the other reasons why we need to keep recess in schools and ensure that it is not withdrawn.

In 2004, as the Act ing Executive Director of the MA Governor’s Committee on Physical Fitness and Sport (a committee Governor Patrick dissolved when he came into office), I was able to speak with legislators and schools officials regularly about the need for physical education and recess. I would hear two major objections: time on learning and cost to schools.

Everyone agreed we need to get our children moving, but no one could agree how, and everyone wanted proof that if they did add more movement in the day, then it would improve learning and show a cost benefit. Now, almost 10 years later, we are having the same conversation, and we finally have some stronger voices behind us.

When the AAP released their positions statement I hoped that two things would come from this immediately. The first is that parents would get more involved and start asking about recess polices and even inquiring about physical activity opportunities in the schools. The second was that finally th is would be the evidence that schools districts needed to take the leap and reduce sedentary time on learning and incorporate active time.  Recess is playtime and playtime is learning.

We know that through free play students learn conflict resolution skills, how to be creative, how to expand and develop their imagination, they get moderate to vigorous physical activity and they are able to interact socially with their peers. They are provided an opportunity to build positive relationships with caring adults. They learn how to navigate challenges and develop problem-solving skills. Through play their brains develop stronger connections, and they are able to focus more in the classroom.

And if all that still doesn’t convince you to pick up the phone and ask about your child’s school’s recess policy think about it like this – being in school for 6-8 hours a day without a break is like sitting in a meeting for that long at work. Paying attention, listening to the presenter run through their six-hour PowerPoint.  If you lean over to tell your colleague how your weekend went you are publically chastised and told to be silent.  You can only leave the room when you are given permission by the presenter to do so, and you are not permitted to check your phone…not even once.  And you sit in that chair for the entire presentation only getting up for a 25 minute lunch break.

Recess is the break our children need so they can learn better, blow off steam, build friendships and develop their imagination.

Take the time to be informed. Know your child’s school polices on recess.

Diana Cutaia was the Director of Athletics and co-founder of the Sport based-Youth Development program at Wheelock College from 2005-2012. She has over 20 years’ experience in using sport as a tool for positive youth development and is a leading expert on topics such as physical activity, girls in sport, peaceful coaching, and positive cultures in sport. She is the owner of Coaching Peace Consulting, LLC. You can reach her at


Great article! I love how you pointed out how difficult it would be for anyone adults included to sit still not interact with their friends and focus for long periods of time without being able to blow off steam.

I also would like to add to the article that our lack of recess, gym, and general physical activity may be one of the drivers of over diagnoses of ADHD.

Posted @ Thursday, January 10, 2013 6:24 PM by Teddy Kokoros

I’m amazed that it requires the AAP to come out with a “position” for something that is self-evident to most parents and educators.
We’ve all had recess occasionally withheld by an exasperated teacher, but to systematically shorten recess throughout the year is cruel and short-sighted.

Posted @ Monday, January 14, 2013 12:04 PM by Subhadra Vai