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11 Benefits of Recess in Elementary Schools

Posted by May Recreation Content Team on September 21, 2016

Schools across the country are recognizing the benefits of daily recess for elementary age students. In a time of increased academic pressure and focus on standardize tests some schools are pushing back and mandating daily recess. They realize that that their students actually perform better with more unstructured playtime.

Schools That Want Recess

For example, Austin Independent School District recently proposed a schedule change that will incorporate 30 minutes of daily recess at its elementary schools. 

Edmund Oropez, AISD’s Chief Officer for Teaching and Learning believes that unrestricted recess “increases productivity” and “intellectual capacity” in children. He also stresses that AISD is “a district that's social-emotional learning committed, and we believe that this also folds well into educating the whole child."

Up the road in Fort Worth, Eagle Mountain Elementary recently implemented TWO 15 minute breaks every morning and TWO MORE in the afternoon for kindergarten and first grades. They also added an extra 15 minute break for other grades. The results?

Kids thrived due to increased focus and the lasting positive affects. The change has been an overwhelming success.

What is an Inclusive Playground?

The American Academy of Pediatric agrees, stating: "Recess represents an essential, planned respite from rigorous cognitive tasks. It affords a time to rest, play, imagine, think, move, and socialize. After recess, for children or after a corresponding break time for adolescents, students are more attentive and better able to perform cognitively. In addition, recess helps young children to develop social skills that are otherwise not acquired in the more structured classroom environment." 


Of course, changing the mindset of some educators (and parents!) can be challenging. It requires logistics of updating the schedules, as well as gaining buy-in from teachers and staff that they can still accomplish their teaching goals. However, results from districts across the nation prove that it works. Below we outline some of the benefits. 

11 Benefits of Recess in Elementary Schools:

1). Increased Focus - Teachers at schools where recess was mandated reported a significant increase in their students' ability to focus.

2). Fewer Disciplinary Problems - They also report fewer disciplinary problems after kids are able to get out and play!

3). Increased Engagement - Kids are more engaged in the learning process after physical activity.

4). Positive Attitude Toward School - Not only do kids begin to look forward to school more often, but as their academic and classroom performances increase their attitude improves as well.

5). Improved Social Skills - Additional recess provides more opportunity to build those all-important social skills that students will use for a lifetime.

6). Physical Exercise - There's no question about the physical benefits of regular exercise, especially in today's increasingly tech-focused world.

7). Independent Learning- Teachers also report that students are more likely to attempt to learn and problem solve independently. 

8). Increased Confidence -  Improved academic and social skills, as well as less "getting in trouble," can drastically increase a child's confidence. This is especially important for at-risk kids. 

9). Noticeable Shift in Following Directions - Attention and following direction can be a challenge for some elementary students, but teachers report a noticeable difference when children are given ample recess. 

10). Natural Sunlight - Obviously kids shouldn't be exposed to direct sunlight without sunscreen or protection for long, but some Vitamin D is necessary for good health. Recess provides exposure to natural sunlight that can increase mood and overall health. 

11). Improved Academics - Across the board, increasing the amount of recess at elementary school results in greater academic performance, including those all important test scores. Physical activity optimizes brain performance by expediting deliver of oxygen to the brain. 

A few things to note:

Experts recommend NOT taking away a child’s recess as a punishment. Instead of helping, it can ultimately have the opposite of the intended affect. 

Another thing to consider – some studies show that the quality of recess plays a huge factor in the overall benefits as well. For example, involving kids in soccer games or encouraging them to participate in activities can contribute to a “better overall school climate.” An interesting study from Stanford discusses the importance of well-organized recess and the benefits of meaningful play. 

The benefits of play time in children extends across academic, social and intellectual boundaries. At May Recreation, we pride ourselves on creating unique and customized playgrounds where children can use their imaginations, increase physical activity and prepare themselves to learn. 


If you have questions on playgrounds in general, or would like to speak to a May Recreation representative about installing or updating a playground at your school, contact us today. 

Topics: Pediatric Health & Wellness Recess

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