Recess optional?

Readers have commented about scheduling school lunch in relation to recess and how it’s better to have recess before lunch…. Um… Tell me again what this “recess” is that you speak of? My school doesn’t have recess. The kids get gym once a week. That’s it. (Revised: the preschoolers get recess but not in the winter.)

It bothers me because kids really have the need to move. And kids want to be outside even in the cold: they want to run around. With ADHD diagnoses increasing every year, it makes you wonder if we are requiring them to sit for too long.

I love watching kids run around, going wild, hair flowing in the breeze, playing tag, laughing and smiling. Being kids. I love seeing their pink cheeks after gym class. That’s increased blood flow to their brains!

Recess in not optional. Recess needs to be required.

Once I was testing a student He has test anxiety. His eyes were wide, he was fidgeting with his shirt, and his hands were trembling. We started the test and he started tanking right away. So I stopped it and said to him, “Let’s do some jumping jacks!” He was confused at first, but when I did a few jumping jacks, he did some too. He had the biggest smile on his face. We sat down again and I could see that he had less tension in his body. We returned to the testing and his scores went up. A little common sense goes a long way.

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57 thoughts on “Recess optional?”

  1. That's incredible and disturbing. My school had gym every other day through high school. I can't imagine being in elementary school and having to sit still all day every day.

  2. They keep cutting recess and physical education to make more time for academics without considering the fact physical activity has a proven ability to boost focus and retention.

    That's not even going into the kinetic learning style. My brother always learned best when he could get hands on with a subject, but our school was almost completely geared toward auditory learners with a few teachers using techniques that work best for visual learners. Very few, especially after the first or second grade level ever used any kinetic techniques. His grades dropped, and he found himself in trouble much more often. When recess was dropped while he was in fifth grade, it only got worse. He's proving now his ability to learn and retain information is just fine now that he's working with practical applications on the job, but it's tough going trying to convince him he's not stupid like he believed because of poor performance in school.

  3. Wow. I was disturbed that my son only gets PE twice a week but at least they have an hour total of recess every day (growing up, we had PE every day).
    Do you have a shortened school day? Here, school is in session 6.5 hours (minus the hour for recess). When do teachers get breaks? What breaks up they day??
    Sounds like you've got potential for another blog. 😉

  4. That's so strange to hear. My elementary and junior high schools both had recess every day as well as gym class every other day. I agree, kids do need a break from all the sitting, especially since school is what, 6-8 hours long?

    In most Asian countries they have a mandatory schoolwide workout each morning. I think we should have something like that here as well, since not all students utilize the recess/gym time actively. I remember although I had gym and recess, my friends and I would often just sit around.

    Also, I was wondering if you saw this site:

  5. I hated recess as a kid. I was the nerd that got picked on, but despite that, I think recess needs to be mandatory. We use to have recess twice a day! It's dumb to think that kids can sit in class for that long. Everyone needs to give their mind a rest at least once an hour (not that I'm suggesting recess every hour, haha).

    As to timing with lunch…maybe anytime that is not within an hour before or after lunch?

  6. That is absolutely horrible. No recess..?! We had gym multiple times a week and recess everyday! What are the leaders in charge of public education thinking? Or, is this just a way of getting society ready to be slave cubicle drones in corporate work environments?

    This is truly appalling…

  7. In theory my son's elementary school has recess every day, but it is bumped so often for more important things that we go weeks where it's noteworthy that they DID it. And with the amount of homework that is given, every day I face the choice between taking him to the playground and letting him run wild and doing homework. He's just 7 so once school lets out at 3.15, there is only so much we can reasonably do before he needs to go to bed.

    My older son has Aspergers and many sensory issues and incorporating many recess-like activities (swinging, climbing, balancing) into his daily routine worked wonders. I can only imagine how much good it does neurotypical children to get to exercise these skills and the harm done when its neglected.

  8. I found out about your blog on GOOD, and I applaud your efforts to wake people up to what their children are eating at school! Thank you for bringing attention to this issue! I am a teacher at a school in California, and our lunches are disgustingly similar to what you show on your blog. At the end of last year, I was moving classrooms, and I needed boxes, so I used some from the cafeteria. The labels on the side of the boxes were extremely enlightening. I knew the food was awful-looking, but when you read what is in the "food" you realize how much nutrition is lacking. I am also alarmingly disturbed by a link you posted about “why crappy fast food is better than a school lunch.” When I send my little 6 year old students off to lunch each day, I am sad that this is the best we can do for them. My own daughters haven’t eaten a school lunch in years.

    I noticed that you have a chocolate milk with most meals. According to Time Magazine, “One 8-oz. serving of reduced-fat chocolate milk has nearly as many calories and sugar as a 12-oz. can of Coke. Encouraging students to regularly consume the drink, they say, is contributing to an already worrying childhood obesity crisis.” Here is a link to read more:,8599,1948865,00.html

  9. NO RECESS?!!! How can that be?!

    I think PE is a waste of school time (my daughter doesn't need to learn how to dribble a basketball, I think we can safely say that's never going to be a skill she needs).

    But recess, a time for kids to get out and move in whatever way they enjoy the most, is critical! How sad for your students. I hope some day you'll have the opportunity to teach at a smarter school.

  10. Wow! I just assumed when I threw out the recess before lunch theory out there that this was a daily practice in all schools. I am shocked to hear that!

    I am so glad Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" Campaign is shining a national spotlight on these nutrition and fitness issues. I know it has been criticized by some as "not being effective enough" but I am really excited about it and see it as a major step in the right direction 🙂

  11. I find it absolutely ridiculous that your elementary school doesn't have recess. Reprehensible. I actually find this almost more disturbing than the nasty school lunches…

  12. No recess is terribly common in the Chicago Public Schools. I believe one reason is to coordinate instructional time with the bus schedule. It's one of several reasons we decided to move to the suburbs before our children started school. Our kids get recess at least once a day (even when it snows, and twice a day for full-day kindergarten), and PE twice a week. Our school lunches are similar to these that Mrs. Q. is showing, so I send my kids with a packed lunch four days out of five. They have hot lunch on pizza day, which gives me a break from packing and they think it's a treat.

    Anyway, Mrs. Q, as a parent, I really admire your efforts to bring these health issues at school out to the public. Thanks.

  13. No recess and yet they wonder why we have an obesity problem… I personally think that it is inhumane to make children sit in classrooms for that long without an outlet!

  14. Oh WOW! Gym and recess should be EVERYDAY! I don't know what state you are in but I am in Kansas and my boys get recess everyday and gym 3 days a week. Kids need to be out moving and letting their brains relax during the school day. Gym once per week and no recess is crazy. I have never even heard of such a thing. Poor kids! Their parents need to get into that district to advocate for their kids' health, fitness and overall education.

  15. Wait, wait, wait. These kids get 20 minutes for lunch, no recess, and gym once a week. That's all that breaks up the time in classes?

  16. Add me to the list of those who find this "no recess" business tragic. To be so young and have no recess and gym on rarely…it breaks my heart.

  17. That really is appalling to hear, no recess, no time at lunch to exercise! At my primary school for the junior students (age 5-7) there was a morning tea break, lunch break, and afternoon tea break. The 8-10 year olds only got a morning tea and lunch break. Lunch was 45mins to 1 hour and the other two were 15 mins each – quite substantial for us kids to run around and play! Even at work now I get similar breaks – and with higher energy and lower concentration levels kids need them far more than adults.

  18. Do you have an elected school board?

    I ask because when recess was effectively eliminated here, parents made a big stink, it made the national news, and it became an issue that the school board took on.

  19. You're my hero. You're my first go-to resource when referring my school board to info about these topics.

  20. I was asked to appear on local TV (I am an adult) and the cameraman sensed my anxiety, and he made me do a few jumping jacks and it worked wonders, just as it did for mrs q's test anxiety student. even the smallest amount of exercise can help one become calm.

  21. I hated gym class but I too loved recess. My mom taught school for 37 years before she retired. Her biggest source of exercise (beside the extracurricular volleyball coaching) was recess!

  22. our kids get recess depending on their age, at a 4-8 school… but, it also seems to be reflective of how much time they eat. 4th graders get TEN minutes to eat, but then nearly 30 minutes of recess. 8th graders have around 20 minutes to eat and 10 minutes of recess. PE is once every 4 days. my teacher duty is sending the 4th graders to recess from lunch before the 8th graders get into the cafeteria. when they aren't finished eating, i direct them to the "teacher table" in the back of the cafeteria to finish up. i was shocked to realize they only got 10 minutes!!! of course, i'm also disgusted by the amount of food that gets thrown away, but if i let myself think about that too much i go crazy…

    on a non-post related note, i saw the first commercials for jaime oliver's TV show last night! it looks great and i think will bring a lot of publicity to the issue!

  23. our kids get recess depending on their age, at a 4-8 school… but, it also seems to be reflective of how much time they eat. 4th graders get TEN minutes to eat, but then nearly 30 minutes of recess. 8th graders have around 20 minutes to eat and 10 minutes of recess. PE is once every 4 days. my teacher duty is sending the 4th graders to recess from lunch before the 8th graders get into the cafeteria. when they aren't finished eating, i direct them to the "teacher table" in the back of the cafeteria to finish up. i was shocked to realize they only got 10 minutes!!! of course, i'm also disgusted by the amount of food that gets thrown away, but if i let myself think about that too much i go crazy…

    on a non-post related note, i saw the first commercials for jaime oliver's TV show last night! it looks great and i think will bring a lot of publicity to the issue!

  24. To me, this new trend is worse than the school lunches. Many kids will not eat healthy food no matter what, but every kid needs time to run around and decompress. I also strongly suspect that kids are perceived as having more behavior problems nowadays because we are expecting them to sit too still for too long.

    My kids' school is like another poster's – technically there is recess, but it often gets bumped, and it seems like it is up to the discretion of the individual teachers. Also, no recess if there is bad whether. When I was a kid, there was no way recess could be skipped. There were bells telling the kids they could go out, and bells telling them to come in. Even in bad weather, we had indoor recess, which was free time to play board games, talk, draw on the chalkboard, etc.

    Adults get coffee breaks, so I don't understand this new hostility towards free time for kids during the school day. I'm not going to put all the blame on the school system. I know parents who think recess is a waste of time, and people who send there kids to charter schools because they spend more time "on task."

  25. Georgia schools lost recess about twenty years ago, but are starting to smarten up. Gyms were built for every school in our county within the last ten years (exercise used to be weather dependent) and my kids' school has "Fresh Air time" – the same as recess- ON THE SCHEDULE… unless it gets used for something MORE IMPORTANT or taken away from a particularly bouncy kid for BAD BEHAVIOR.

    I shouldn't even get started on this topic. I'll pull all my hair out and be bald. And it is too cold to be bald.

  26. Those poor kids. Nobody can learn properly in those unnatural conditions, and no amount of testing and "accountability" is going to keep them from being left behind.

  27. We have "recess" every day…but not really. They are supposed to go outside, but apparently there is a rule that says we aren't allowed to take them outside if it's below 40 degrees – which I think is total crap unless the kids don't actually have coats (which is not true in my class). Recess is only 15 minutes long, and we have no been outside in over 2 months. We have "inside" recess – but that doesn't get ANY of their energy out. They sit and play board games or draw… A mental break, maybe, but not the physical one they need.

    Also, we have gym either once a week or twice a week depending on the week. NOT enough. It should be everyday, no questions asked.

  28. We are in the process of switching daycare providers because the current daycare changed their curriculum this past fall and the new schedule does not have an outdoor recess for the pre-k class until 4pm. That's right, my four year old son did not get to go outside to run until 4pm and then they would complain that he couldn't sit still for his studies. I was VERY upset with them and was thrilled when a new daycare opened nearby with a MUCH healthier approach (including fresh fruit with meals instead of canned, kids will be growing an organic garden, and twice a day recess!). Good for you for taking this on!

  29. When do these kids get a chance to practice basic social skills?! I feel so bad, I had recess all the way to 8th grade, even in the winter (nuns, enough said).

  30. I was afraid of this. I had heard about the trend to get rid of recess before, and I was afraid your school seemed like the type that would do that. So these kids only get a 20 minute lunch a day and that's the ONLY break they get? Terrible!

    I hate to add yet another book to your already long "to read someday" list, but if you ever get the chance, especially if you get sick of reading books about food specifically, you really should read Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.

    It's about how our kids (and our planet) are suffering because kids don't play outside anymore. "Nature deficit" (as he calls it) probably causes as many health problems as an unhealthy diet. He discusses the trend towards getting rid of recess, as well as the obesity epidemic and ADHD.

    Another thing that a lot of people don't realize: recess is different than gym, or after school sports, or things like that. I mean, gym and sports are good too, but the important thing about recess is it's UNSTRUCTURED time. Kids aren't being told what to do, they're just taken outside and let loose. This is when they get to do whatever they want (within reason), and this freedom is very important to their mental health. It's not all about exercise.

    I mean, when do kids get time to make friends and play games and USE THEIR IMAGINATIONS?

    I admit, when I got to middle school and didn't have recess anymore, I missed it, especially when the weather was nice. I almost feel like kids should have recess through HIGH SCHOOL. I know a 15 year old wouldn't spend his time the same way as a 10 year old, but it sure was nice to get outside and unwind a bit, and I missed that when I was in higher grades. It was nice when I got to college and had some gaps between classes to go for a walk or something.

  31. In elementary school ('93-'98) we had recess every day after lunch along with a PE class every other day. The other days were art or music classes which are also being drastically cut from schools. Then Jr High through High School we had a required amount of PE credits needed. I can't believe they are cutting recess and PE out of schools and wonder why kids have weight issues.

  32. When did the law change? I graduated from high school ten years ago, so I'm completely out of the loop, but wow. We were told that it was state law that everyone enrolled in school had to have daily PE, which annoyed several of us in high school, and only a varsity sports exemption could get you out of it on a semester basis. It was us and Utah, I think, that had such laws on the books.

    This is appalling. I've been annoyed at many things that have happened in my district since I graduated, but the removal of daily PE is beyond the pale.

    Also, for the person who doesn't think his/her kid needs to learn how to dribble a basketball – PE exposes kids to a variety of activities that they might not always discover on their own. I always thoroughly enjoyed floor hockey when in elementary school, but how was I to know that unless I was taught how to play floor hockey? (I hated PE most of the time, and was usually afraid of the ball, but basketball was pretty fun, too, and we had jump rope units and juggling and gymnastics, which you know a lot of the boys weren't going to be otherwise exposed to by their parents.) It's basic physical fitness and a variety of activities, some of which your daughter may enjoy and wouldn't even know about if it weren't for PE.

  33. As an Occupational Therapist, I see how the lack of movement in school affects school performance. Kids who have an abundance of energy need some way to release it before they can focus. I feel sorry for the teachers in a school without recess. Are they all hyper and fidgety all the time?

  34. OMG – no recess? I'm not lucky enough to have kids so I am completely out of the loop on what schools are doing now – but c'mon – recess does not require a BUDGET so what the heck? I CANNOT imagine as a kid trying to get through the day without it – and gym ONCE A WEEK? We had it every frickin' day! and these lunches you're posting – PREPACKAGED? Okay we had the creepy lunch ladies (until you got to know them and then you buttered them up) who COOKED in POTS and PANS our crappy school food but it was WAY better than THAT slop!

    I REALLY feel HORRIBLE for these kids! OMG this is TERRIBLE!!! I thought MY school sucked in the 70's but there is NO comparison! (Sorry for all the capitals but I am truly horrified)

    Bless you for putting up with this!

  35. No recess? It's certainly not a good idea. Because we have to eat and take a break for whatever we do. Our body needs it and so as our mind. Recess should be required and is not optional. If play time is a problem for kids, they can play with their friends while eating but its much better to eat first before playing. Parents are also involve in this issue because when it comes to schooling, they should prepare a packed lunch or a healthy snack for their kids. And when it comes to packed lunch it should be healthy. 😉

  36. Oh my! I was under the impression that recess was something EVERYONE had! I haven't been in school for almost 10 years so I had to go back and check out the schedule for my younger siblings. They get 70 minutes for recess – 15 in the morning, 50 for lunch (this includes time for eating lunch), and a 5 minute passing break. I was disappointed to find out that they only have PE once a week. However, 70 minutes is amazing compared to none. I couldn't imagine what they would do if they had NO recess at all!

    I graduated high school in 2003. At that time, freshmen and sophmores had PE every day. But juniors and seniors did not have any PE unless they were involved in varsity sports. If that was the case then they got one period (approx 50 mins) of "PE" which was just an extended practive session.

  37. Wow… if my kids had had you as a teacher… my son has ADHD (usually low test scores)… and my daughter sometimes gets test anxiety… I am thankful our school has recess and regular PE… I don't think you need to worry about your job after all of this!

  38. I homeschool my 9 year old son and I cannot imagine him being stuck in school all day with no opportunity to MOVE. Sometimes he'll be sitting down doing his math or grammar and just get up and run laps around the house. How do kids in school do it?

  39. Chalk me up as someone else horrified at the thought of a bunch of elementary schoolers with no recess!1?!

    I must be around the same age as lorax because we got morning and afternoon recess breaks plus nearly an hour at lunch, which we got unstructured use of for eating/playing/socializing. Gads! I even got to go home for lunch in grades 5 and 6.

  40. As a kid growing up, we had recess EVERY DAY. After calling it quits teaching in Las Vegas, I switched to subbing. I am a high school teacher, by trade, but I subbed mainly elementary schools. I was appalled to see that they never had recess except at lunch. That is absurd! Not only is it great for kids to run around, but also it gives a small break to the Yes, academics are important, but at what expense…that the kids fail because they can't focus when running around will definitely help them…at least to get out the giggles and the wiggles 🙂

  41. At my daughter's elementary school, the kids get 30 minutes of recess before lunch. The first 15 minutes they either do group exercises (jumping jacks, running in place, etc.) or they walk or run around the playground area. The final 15 minutes is used for free play. Once a week they have a PE class with an actual coach! They also get 30 minutes a day for lunch. Which for the kids buying their lunch (about 75%) it ends up being about 15 minutes to eat. This for all grades (K-5). My daughter tried the school lunches a couple of times when she started and found that she couldn't stomach the taste of most of the things served. So now she takes her lunch everyday.

    My son who is in middle school has PE daily for grades 6 and 8. Seventh grade has PE one semester and then a health class the other. The lunch is totally different there too. They still serve the hot lunches in one line and then they have an Ala Carte line that serves everything from fried shrimp, baked potatoes, chicken tenders, etc. And then finally the snack bar line that has hamburgers, hotdogs and such. Also, while all the schools serve things like french fries and such, all of those items must be baked not fried!

  42. This I am confused on….we had recess, EVERYDAY, even indoors if it was rainy, right after lunch. Some kids would even eat their lunch in 5 minutes just to get outside to play football, wallball, or dodgeball and beat whichever team won the day before.

    I am in college so this wasn't an impossible time ago. I'm guessing since I haven't read all of your blog yet, but that you work for a public school? I thought public schools were SUPPOSED to have recess? I wrote a paper last semester on children and physical activity/obesity. LOL. I just don't get how a school can make recess optional…it was such an intrinsic part of my childhood, and from what research I did for my paper, I really thought public schools were forced to have more phys. ed. time than just a gym class once a week.

  43. This is ridiculous! You cannot force students to go to school and sit all day! It is a waste of their time. Children need to be able to stretch, move and run around in order to refresh their minds so they can learn better. I remember my days in elementary, we used to have a 10 minute recess every two hours, 10AM, 12PM(lunch was 40 minutes) , and 2PM. Thankfully, my baby sis still gets at least an hour of recess a day

  44. Before I read this I had NO IDEA there were schools out there that don't have recess.
    Mind Boggling!
    I now feel soooo blessed that my son attends a school where he still gets morning recess & recess after lunch (which, up until just now, I thought was normal) plus they have PE almost every single day unless the weather or air quality is bad. We live in the central valley in CA & the air quality here is horrible. His school principal also discourages the teachers from taking recess away as a form of punishment because he knows the children will benefit more from expending their pent up energy than confining it.
    My son would never make it through the day w/o recess.
    Kids need time EVERY DAY to just be KIDS.
    Playing is NORMAL.
    Even juveniles in the animal kingdom use play to learn how to be an adult. It not only allows them to expend healthy energy but it also teaches them about socialization & helps their imaginations to grow.
    No recess is NOT NORMAL & I don't care what any parent or school board says. It is NOT NORMAL. (Repeat X's 10,000…lol)
    BTW~sadly, my son's school lunches look exactly like what you are showing on here & consequently he brings a healthy lunch from home every single day. He's 7 1/2, his 2nd grade year is almost complete & he has never eaten hot lunch.
    I hate prepping his lunch every night then making it every single morning but I refuse to make him suffer the hot lunch. Not only is it unhealthy but it's just disgusting.
    I am thankful there is hot lunch, though, because disgusting as it may be, it's often the only hot meal a lot of disadvantaged children receive & I'm grateful these children can safely count on putting at least one meal in their tummies every day.

  45. When I was in grade school, we had recess every day. When I was 10, we moved to a school district that had recess in middle school, at least for the 5th and 6th graders, we moved in between 6th and 7th grade for me, and the city middle schools didn't have recess. My neices are in kindergarten and 4th grade, and they only have about 5 minutes of recess, which really shocked me.

  46. That is so odd to hear there is no recess. My son has 3 recesses a day. Morning, lunch and afternoon, like someone else said even prisoners get recess. Children need some outside time, being cooped up all day makes learning harder and not very fun! I love what you doing. School lunches were a little bit different when I was in school, seemed like we had more variety. I'm sure it was just as unhealthy but there were very few that I didn't like as a kid at school lunch.

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