Importance of Recess in School

It is becoming more and more common to withhold recess as a punishment for bad behavior in the school setting. However, recess provides a plethora of benefits to a child that may be unrecognized by teachers and staff. To take away recess would be a disservice to both the student and the teacher. Recess provides a time for each child to take a break from the high demands of their academic school day and ‘let loose’. “Recess represents an essential, planned respite from rigorous cognitive tasks. It affords a time to rest, play, imagine, think, move, and socialize.” “In addition, recess helps young children to develop social skills that are otherwise not acquired in the more structured classroom environment.” Recess is the one portion of the day that belongs to the child. While it is supervised, recess is an unstructured time for children to do what they want, when they want (so long as it is safe). They can be as creative and imaginative as they choose, thus expanding the development of fundamental play skills. Along with this, it provides a time for movement, social acquisition, and visual development. In addition, recess is a perfect opportunity for children to learn playground politics- working on a team, being a leader, and turn-taking.

‘How does this have a direct impact on the teachers?’ you may ask. Well according to studies, “After recess, for children or after a corresponding break time for adolescents, students are more attentive and better able to perform cognitively.” By giving their students a break from their academic duties, they can return rejuvenated and ready to work. It provides the children the time they need to regain their focus before returning to the classroom to finish their day. In fact, the children who struggle with attention or other behavioral issues that may result in recess being taken away are actually the ones that need it the most.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines recess as “regularly scheduled periods within the elementary school day for unstructured physical activity and play.” It has been put in place for a reason, and nowhere does it say to reduce or reallocate this determined time.  Movement is critical to development and should not be used as punishment for something that is supposed to be naturally occurring!

Rachel Durante, MS OTR/L


Murray, R. & Ramstetter (2013). The Crucial Role of Recess in School, 131(1). American Academy of Pediatrics.

Centers for Disease Control Policy Strategy for Supporting Recess in Schools

Centers for Disease Control: The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance