One morning when I was a 5th grader at Horace Mann Elementary School (roughly 10,000 years ago), our teacher announced that they were going to cut our morning recess in order to make room for extra class time.  In and of itself, this should not be one of the most memorable moments of my childhood- but what came next is one of things I’m proudest of.  We went on strike.  The whole 5th grade.  We announced “No recess?  No math,” no_math_zone_funny_postcard-r220c200b86fe423490db7ded0dd545b3_vgbaq_8byvr_512and we meant it.  Safe in our belief that “they can’t flunk all of us,” we refused to turn in math homework until our 20 minutes of fresh-air-and-sunshine were restored.  Amazingly enough, we won.   Looking back, I’m sort of shocked not only at our victory, but also at the incredibly bad decision someone made at the outset.  In what universe is eliminating recess a good idea?

So, in the last few years when the first stories surfaced  about schools eliminating recess in favor of more instructional time, I watched with a been-there-done-that perspective. I assumed these latest Dickensian efforts would fail.  Lots of good folks had their eyes on that ball and I didn’t really feel like I had much to add because, quite frankly, it’s sort of a no-brainer.

Kids need recess. Any questions?

But now it’s years later and it’s still going on. I’m still hearing from moms and dads and teachers about district level decisions to eliminate or curtail recess in order to squeeze in RTI or some new literacy program or math program (funny how I never hear that they’re working hard to squeeze in more art or music, but that’s another post for another day).

This, from nearly all perspectives, is a colossally stupid idea. Perhaps there’s research somewhere that says it’s a good idea. And perhaps I just haven’t come across it and am, therefore, woefully ill informed. On the other hand, there’s this:

Want to get your kids into college? Let them play

And this:

Recess Makes for Better Students

Or this:

The 3 R’s? A Fourth Is Crucial, Too: Recess

Morning exercise to spark kids’ learning

Looking for something a bit more academic?

Recess, Physical Education, and Elementary School Student Outcomes


Physical Activity May Strengthen Children’s Ability to Pay Attention

Or…  Study Finds Regular Recess Time Improves Students’ Test Scores, Concentration

Or maybe we just need to utilize this wacky thing I like to call Common Sense. If what we’re doing now isn’t working, what in heaven’s name makes us think that adding another 15 or 20 or 30 minutes of the same will somehow fix currently ineffective instruction (assuming the instruction is actually ineffective, and that kids aren’t struggling because of poverty or hunger or learning differences that skew test results)?

You know what I’d like to see? I’d like to hear from more parents who want to their kids outside and moving because staying healthy is more important than testing well.  I’d love to talk with more teachers like the one I’ll call Ms. Y, who is scheduling “wellness breaks” into her day. You know what happens during wellness break? Kids go outside. They swing and play kickball and slide down the slide and go on the monkey bars.  And I’d LOVE to hear from a group of kids willing to push back themselves- I might have a little advice for them.
I don’t think subversion has ever looked like quite so much fun.


2 responses to “Recess

  1. Thank you for this article. I have a M.S. in Physical Education and have 15 years of experience, so when my 2nd grade daughter came home and announced, “PE is our recess on Mondays,” I cringed and thought she must have been mistaken. Unfortunately, she was correct as the school just can’t fit it recess into the schedule on that day. Since then, I have been reciting, to anyone who will listen, every research article I can find on the devaluing of PE, and the huge importance that unstructured play has on LEARNING in general. I will be sending your article to our school (along with my plea to give 7 year olds back their rightful
    recess! )Thanks!

  2. I’m so glad this was helpful to you! It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing we should have to convince people about, does it? I hope you end up getting some positive results!

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