Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How Often Do You Go Out to Recess?

A recent article in Instructor magazine asked this question.  They point out the trend of decreasing recess time in public schools:

Yet recess has been scaled back or cut altogether in a number of schools around the country. The trend can be traced back to the late eighties and was accelerated under No Child Left Behind. Districts under pressure to show academic progress began to squeeze as much instruction into the day as possible. Others eliminated recess because of concerns about safety, lack of supervision, and subpar playground equipment.

It’s something I’ve noticed since I began subbing.  When I was in elementary school, we went out to recess everyday, unless there were weather issues.  And we played during a 30-minute block.  Now that I think about it (I’d completely forgotten), but we also had morning recess before the bell rang.

In the district that I where I get the most work, recess has to get in where it fits in.  Usually, no one goes out each day, and certainly not for a half hour or in the mornings.  Even young elementary kids can only expect a few days of recess per week, for about 15-20 minutes.  Older kids may be relegated to only one day a week (glorious Fridays).  I’ve seen schools take away recess altogether to give classes more time to prepare for standardized tests.

I wonder how this affects students.  Do the ten or fifteen extra minutes in the classroom really benefit students, or would running outside and getting some fresh air be better?    I see the benefit of letting a restless class run around outside for a while and getting some exercise.  But I can also see how the 20-30 minute daily recess time really adds up as unusable instructional time.  Has less recess over the last ten or twenty years improved scores?  Where do you stand on this issue?

If you’re interested, the Instructor article mentions a lot of efforts to campaign for more recess, and to prevent recess from being removed altogether.  It’s an interesting debate.


image:  microsoft


  1. Our students have recess between breakfast and the official day beginning (about 20 minutes) and the 4th/5th grade gets a 20 minute recess in the morning and a 20 minute recess at lunch. The K-1 and 2-3 population get 20 minutes at lunch and 20 minutes in the afternoon.

    When I was a kid in the same district, we had 15 a.m., 20 lunch and 15 p.m. recesses. So we've only shaved it by 10 minutes in the 20 years since I was in elementary school.

    Personally I'm glad we have it in the AM. My schedule this year is near perfect. We have almost 2 hours of instruction, recess, 90 minutes of instruction, lunch and 2 hours of instruction. It breaks up the day perfectly. Sometimes when the weather is real warm, on certain days we take the kids out for an extra 10 minutes in the afternoon (we have to be careful with that simply because of the lower el recesses).

  2. That schedule sounds wonderful, Sunny! I'm impressed that your students get 40+ minutes of physical activity/breaks during the school day.

    Veronica, thanks for bringing up this topic. I believe recess is very important time in the school day.

    It's sad to hear of students going entire school days without play time. Total instructional minutes are quite valuable, but children need also physical break and time to learn from recess and play. Kids learn conflict resolution, problem solving, motor skills and much more from playing with their peers.

    I believe an additional worry for schools can be minutes lost from solving disputes that occur at recess. But there are several examples of schools working to eliminate those (http://www.playworks.org/blog/whos-recess) so that children can still get valuable recess time.

  3. Sunny, I'm glad you guys get a good amount of recess. I never experienced having recesses split up. It's probably really refreshing to have a midday "break" for recess. Interesting!

    Beth, I believe recess is important as well. You're right, kids do a lot of learning during that time. One of my favorite things is watching kids make up games when they're outside. They're quite inventive! Thanks for the link!