Do Kids Really Need Recess?


All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

This proverb goes back to at least the mid-1600s, and it’s as relevant today as it was 300 years ago. Times of rest and rejuvenation contribute to our health and well-being, and especially to our children’s ability to learn and grow.

Study after study shows that unstructured play time is crucial for childhood development, which is why The American Academy of Pediatrics wrote a policy entitled, “The Crucial Role of Recess in School.” Some of the policy’s findings include:

  • “Recess represents an essential, planned respite from rigorous cognitive tasks. It affords a time to rest, play, imagine, think, move, and socialize.”
  • “Recess helps young children to develop social skills that are not otherwise acquired in the more structured classroom environment.” 
  • “Recess, whether performed indoors or outdoors, made children more attentive and more productive in the classroom, even if the students spent much of their recess time socializing.” 
  • “Through play at recess, children learn valuable communication skills, including negotiation, cooperation, sharing, and problem-solving as well as coping skills, such as perseverance and self-control.” 
  • “Although not all children play vigorously at recess, it does provide the opportunity for children to be active in the mode of their choosing and practice movement and motor skills. Even minor movement during recess counterbalances sedentary time at school and home.”

Kids playing jump rope during recess.

The Authorities All Agree

After reviewing research from across the country, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), wrote a similar paper called “The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, including Physical Education, and Academic Performance.”

The CDC concluded that “school boards, superintendents, principals, and teachers can feel confident that providing a recess to students regularly may benefit academic behaviors, while also facilitating social development and contributing to overall physical activity and its associated health benefits.”

In 2017, in partnership with a group called SHAPE America (Society of Health and Physical Educators), the CDC came out with national guidelines for recess, recommending at least 20 minutes a day of recess for all students K-12.

Are your children currently getting a regular recess period during school? They may not be.

According to Edutopia, there are only five states that have a recess law on the books: Missouri, Florida, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Arizona. Seven other states require between 20-30 minutes of daily physical activity for elementary schools, but the schools can choose to allocate that time to PE or recess.

What Can I Do to Help?

Do you want to help promote recess in schools? The CDC has created free resources to help promote recess in schools, and this handy guide for parents on how you can support recess in your child’s school.

Happy playing!