Recess not on the menu

When I posted about the lack of recess at my school over the weekend, I didn’t fully comprehend how big of a deal it really is. That’s because the culture of my school has completely normalized not having recess. It’s just not done!

I chatted very briefly with another teacher about recess last week and that teacher told me that all the kids used to have recess many years ago. At some point it was cut out of the day. At the time I bet the teachers were upset about it, but those teachers have long since retired or moved on. Over the past five years alone there have been [redacted: double digit] new teachers at my school (some brand-new and others with prior teaching experience). So when you start working at a school where there is no recess, you don’t make waves since you are untenured.

Let’s review what my students have on their plate (pun intended):
1) The school lunch that you have seen me eat for two months
2) The only opportunity to run around: a once-a-week gym class
3) No recess

The lack of recess is not just a concern where I work, but all over the country. And we’re surprised that kids are getting fat, having trouble focusing, and not achieving at the levels seen in other countries? Certainly we can’t control what happens at home. I’m just trying to make schools reflect about their role in the increase in childhood obesity. Are schools contributing to the problem?

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67 thoughts on “Recess not on the menu”

  1. Wow, lack of recess? We live in a very small town where 4 different small towns go to the SAME K-12 school. Our kids have gym every day and recess every morning before they're served breakfast, after lunch, and some of them have it again right before the bus comes to pick them up. I thought it was normal (I remember it from my own childhood). I now feel very blessed with our local school!

    BTW, hi! Love your blog idea!

  2. Oh but I DON'T feel blessed with their lunches. Their breakfasts are really great and healthy. And some lunches are too (they've even added whole grains). But, I wind up sitting down with the monthly menu plan and my white board to write out when my son needs a snack (like an orange or whole grain goldfish crackers) to eat with his lunch or when he needs a cold lunch all together.

  3. As an adult, I still need "recess" after sitting at my desk all day. I walk to and from the train station each day (1+ mile) and during lunch. What's sad is that quite a few of my coworkers have made mention to gaining a decent amount of weight after working in our building where we can't even walk up and down the stairs and parking is provided for free w/ in and out privileges and they bring in some not so great foods for meals and have poor vending machine choices.

    It's the same thing happening again, but people were normalized to these sorts of foods in school and at a young age, so they keep on choosing those same things as an adult! Now groups of people have started rejecting the foods, going our for lunch time runs and yoga, but we have a choice. The kids don't and just looking at ourselves, we should get the clue that sitting all day eating crappy foods is not helpful.

  4. I was stunned when I read you don't have recess! It seems so necessary for the kids to burn off some energy (let alone those lunch calories).
    Maybe you can have your kids do some jumping jacks at a certain time each day. It worked for the kid with test anxiety!
    The first lady wants kids to be healthier and has started her "Let's Move!" Campaign. Maybe she can include something to get recess back in school. But maybe she doesn't even know that some schools don't have recess. I sure didn't know!
    Your blog is SO eye opening. Keep it up!

  5. It's sad that teachers don't even question this. Don't they have any memories of their own childhoods, when recess was a given? Even if they are new teachers, at some point in their lives they must have been children themselves, and I would think they'd notice any huge glaring differences between how school is today and how it was when they were kids.

    Some of my fondest or most vivid memories of my childhood were from school recess. Actual school was boring. That's when I had to write things over and over again or recite multiplication tables. Recess was when I got to be a queen living in a castle or an explorer in a jungle or flying a spaceship to another planet.

    I suppose this saves the school money on buying playground equipment, and they don't have to worry about overprotective parents suing them because their kid skinned his knee or something.

  6. No recess at an elementary school is crazy. It seems like punishment to kids and teachers. At our school, kindergarten gets two recesses plus lunch recess. All the other grades get at least one recess as well as lunch recess. The school sends them outside as long as the temperature is above 40 degrees (I think) and below 95 (air quality issues). I'm sorry you have to work with students who don't get that outlet every day. Oh yeah, 3 days of PE too, with art and music on the other days.

  7. Nicole, I am surprised that the kids are kept inside for temperatures below 40. I live in Wisconsin, and we have recess year round. The kids are let outdoors every day with the proper gear; boots, gloves, snowpants, etc.
    I believe the offical policy is that they are allowed outdoors if the temp/windchill is above -10. Some schools even have sleds to play with during recess! It is fun and great exercise and if we waited until it was 40 degrees, we'd be stuck inside until June!

  8. My sister is a teacher at a public magnet school in Massachusetts – when she first started teaching there, three years ago, there was no recess. Some teachers took their kids for an unofficial "break" time for 15 minutes in the afternoon, with the tacit acknowledgment of the administration. Any more than that, and there would be a problem. They had a very small playground, in the middle of the traffic circle in front of the school (weird, right?) that had been unused for years. So bizarre to me.

    With more and more stress on making sure that every free second is scheduled, and more and more stress on getting kids to "pass" the MCAS (required state tests), recess is considered superfluous. Luckily for my sister's school, since they are now officially a magnet school, they have just a little bit more flexibility in their schedule, and the kids now have recess again. But it is still just 15 minutes.

  9. I was disappointed this year when my kids moved from gym five days a week to three, but they still have recess at least once per day if the weather cooperates. And sometimes, when it's muddy on the playground, but not raining, the teachers will take them out on the sidewalks to just dance and move and jump. It makes a huge difference in the kids' ability to concentrate and listen and just sit still inside the classroom. It's shocking to me that there is no recess at your school. Kids need to move and play and decompress.

    Dani in Texas

  10. I have to agree with M. Moving is necessary for all of us, I think.

    I'm a writer by trade, and I'll admit to a steep decline in ideas and quality when I'm sedentary. Some days, I'll sit down at the keyboard and have to fight for each word. Yet, if I get up and move, whether it's scrubbing out the tubs, gardening, or taking my girls to the park, the words come spilling forth when I next put fingers to keys.

    Humans aren't meant to sit and "just" think all day. We seem to be wired to do our best work, problem solving, and inventing when we're up and moving. Not that we have to be constantly in motion, but activity seems to activate some parts of the brain not connected specifically to motor functions that have an effect for an hour or two after sitting down to academics.

  11. I agree with Erin O. Perhaps there is some way you can incorporate movement into the student's learning (marching around the room or jumping jacks while reciting, using the outdoors as a teaching medium if possible in your area, etc). You could even get together with other teachers to come up with a set of things you can ALL do in your respective classrooms. The children and teachers would both benefit from it.

  12. Wow, I'm shocked that so many schools don't offer recess anymore. I had no idea! I love reading your blog — it has been so interesting getting an insight as to what our kids are eating during school lunch. Thanks for taking the time to blog and raise awareness about this issue!

  13. I am a homeschooling mom, although my twins were in public school kindy last year. I, too, was shocked at the lack of recess. They had one gym class per week. Luckily we lived close enough to school to walk there and back each day.

    I'm somewhat of a reluctant homeschooler, but I appreciate the health opportunities I'm giving my kids. For lunch today we had tomato soup made from scratch and grilled cheese sandwiches. Snack will be an apple and a cheese stick. After "quiet time" we're going to the park to run around for a while.

  14. I have to agree that recess shouldn't be the only time that students are moving (I'm sure you studied kinesthetic learning styles as a teacher) but I still think it has its place. Children need to learn how to manage their own time and social status, and free-time at recess is essential.
    I also am terrified at just what kind of treatment we're willing to accept because that's how the system is set up at the moment. We need to step back and reassess. This is why change needs to happen on the school level; not state, not county, each school needs the power to do what's right for its students. And it's obvious that no physical activity is just not right.

  15. I worked in an elementary school with no recess AND a huge, fully stocked ice cream freezer that the kids could access at will during lunch. Made for quite some afternoons.

  16. I was so amazed to read both of these posts. I had no idea that recess had been axed at schools. Kids have so much energy, and they need to move around (as do adults, as many have pointed out)…especially with all the junk they're fed these days.

  17. I just found your blog – I love it! I have my own school lunch story I want to share – it's a little bit atypical, but I hope there's a "Valuable Lesson" in it about childhood obesity.

    As a kid, I was never allowed to get school lunches – not out of any health concern, really, just because my mom is a real skinflint and always packed my lunch because it was cheaper!

    When I started my senior year in high school (in 1995) I weighed 78 pounds. There wasn't anything wrong with me, I was just a short, scrawny kid with the metabolism of a hamster. Of course, the other girls spread rumors that I was anorexic, which was annoying (to say the least). I desperately wanted to gain weight just so I could look like everyone else! So, given that I had an after school job and some pocket money, I decided to say "no thanks" to my mom's packed lunch and go on the School Lunch Diet.

    For the next nine months I ate pizza, french fries, ice cream, AND a grilled cheese sandwich EVERY DAY for lunch.

    By graduation day I'd gained 20 pounds.

  18. Wow! What a shame that they don't have recess and only one gym class per week. These are some of the main reasons why kids are overweight! They don't even have recess after lunch? When I was in elementary school we had recess before or after lunch (depended on your grade) and another short recess during the day. We also had gym several times a week. It was great and is so important for children. Even helps with team building, not just fitness.

  19. When I read this post about recess, I remembered an article I had read a few months ago in Parents Magazine. It mentioned a non-profit research group called The Alliance for Childhood and a study they were doing called "Crisis in the Kindergarten" about children having little or no recess and the negative impact this is having on kids. Here is the report:

    Granted, the study only focuses on kindergarten but in my opinion, it should apply to all grade school age children. This report is a very interesting read.

    I have been reading your blog since the first of the year and think you are doing a wonderful thing for our children by bringing these issues to light. Keep up the good work!

  20. Is it possible that the lack of recess is another cost saving measure…along with things like schools without full kitchens and staff to cook? I know Mrs. Q has mentioned the school district is "cash strapped", and not haveing recess would save the wages of recess supervison.

    Mrs. Q, is there even space and/or playground equipment available for recess?

  21. If you have an interest, I could fill out some grants to get physio balls as class chairs. There are foundations that should be able to cover the complete cost.

  22. My sister is a 3rd grade teacher in a low-income elementary school, they never have recess. They can't because if they don't get the right percentage passing the TAKS test, they won't get any funding and they desparately need it. My son went to public school for only one year (3rd grade) no recess there either and PE only 3 days a week. We switched to private school where they had recess everyday.

  23. My kids do get recess everyday. as long as teh weather stays above 20 degrees then they play inside. They get gym twice a week. I am shocked how your school does this. WOW. Will you continue this blog next year? Great blog.

  24. No recess? Where are the parents? If I was a parent at that school I would be storming the administration building – if I didn't just opt to pull the kids out of school altogether. Is the day shorter at least? I might have sacrificed recess if I could have spent less time at school, but otherwise, that's monstrous.

  25. I have a friend who lives in NJ who faught to have recess brought back to her school and won. There were many battles and it was a long process, but she WON.

    There is a Facebook group called Rescue Recess for our Children that is lobbying to make recess a reality for all schools that have cut it.

  26. What a disservice to America's children.They have recess here in these schools every day but gym is only once a week. We push our kids here so hard to compete with other countries in academics that we remove other important aspects of learning and our kids don't get the chance to be kids. Tragic.

  27. Hey, I found your post via my friend Tyler, and it instantaneously made me think of a place where I used to work. If you don't know it, check out KaBOOM!, they're a national nonprofit aimed at helping communities rally around facilitating play for kids.

    They help people plan volunteer playground builds, they help advocate for play with municipalities and they provide all kinds of resources, some of which are aimed at quantifying the benefits of play and recess alike, helping those who aren't afraid of speaking up on behalf of recess make their case!

    Check it out, if you're interested at, and while I know this may seem like some sort of shameless plug or something like that, believe me it is not. I worked there for about 2 years pretty much right out of college back in the mid 0's and it was an incredible place to work, and an organization responsible for producing amazing results for kids and communities alike. I, like so many previous folks leaving comment here have amazing memories of playground daydreams, construction paper light sabers, and leaping dangerously from high flying swings. I hope that when I have kids I can find a school that still provides recess! It's essential.

  28. kids need a good run couple with fresh air. That's too bad they don't have it at your school 🙁

  29. Shocking! As a teacher at a school in California, our state mandates 200 minutes of P.E. in a 2 week period (teachers can break that down however they like) and we have a daily 15 minute morning recess and 40 minute lunch/recess break. I'm certain there is a mandate for your state as well, but I hear what you are saying about non-tenured teachers and "wave-making." I hope your blog brings some much-needed attention to the lack of recess in your school. I'm sure your school is not the only US school that has eliminated recesses over time.

  30. Northern Minnesota here…daily recess BEFORE lunch as long as the windchill is above -18. I'm with the others who say you ought to start some regular in-class excercises with those kids!

  31. Thanks, Mrs Q, for the great blog. I've enjoyed following along. Keep it up as long as you can! The conversations are incredible!

    I'm a family nurse practitioner and really try to practice what I preach. I'm in a small town in rural Oregon, that was just rated 30/33 in health outcomes. What did your county come out as?

    I was at a lecture last week and learned that 30% of males and 39% of females born in 2000 will become Type II diabetics in their lifetimes, shortening their lives by 9 years for men and 12 years for women.

    We've got to get everyone up and moving…and eating better!

    Thanks for starting the conversation.

  32. Your blog is very interesting but the issue is bigger. Food in the US, and unfortunately painfully growing in EU, is mass produced with chemicals, hormones etc. which contributes to the obesity problem in children and adults. I was born and raised in Eastern Europe to my grandparents home grown meats, fruits, vegetables and can say that we ate actual lard, a delicatessy, and I never was, or am, ever obese or overweight. Upon arriving here, almost 13 years ago, I gained 10 pounds in the first 5 months.
    My point is, people need to be educated on proper diet, organic food and its effect on the organism. This change needs to come from adults, the parents. Since they are null on the knowledge, well most, not all, their children are at the mercy of whatever the school decides to give them.
    Yesterday I saw a documentary on children that are medicated as early as the age of 2 with antipsychotics and antidepressants because they have tantrums and show signs of depression. Seriously, a child at 2 or 3, 4, 5 years of age is depressed? Psychotic? Because it screams and is hyperactive? This is an issue, a real issue. You are a teacher, and I hope you understand how important your impact is on shaping children’s characters. You interact with them on a daily basis, you build their knowledge of the world, YOU have the power to turn their coarse of life, because even if it seems they ignore you, or disobey you, at the end it actually sticks to their mind. So, 3 of my friends are called on a daily basis in the schools where their sons go to and routinely harassed that they misbehave, it’s hard for the teacher to grab their attention, that they are hyperactive etc. etc. The recommendations – ‘special ed,’ ‘anger management classes,’ ‘social workers,’ ‘pediatric psychologist.’ I find it disgusting that teachers here have no training, no knowledge of children’s development. Just think about it, check stats – obesity is higher in the US, shootings in schools happen EVERY year somewhere in the US, antidepressants and antibiotics are the solution to ‘abnormal’ child’s behavioral development and nothing is being done, instead the trend continues generation after generation.
    My thoughts are scattered but there is too much on my mind that I want to share, years and years worth of compiling my views and opinions of ‘culture’ in the US. I finished 3 years of high school here, advancing 2 full years of what I was supposed to be at home and finishing top % in my class. Education is horrible here, not just lunch! With all this said, my point is not to be over criticizing of Americans, but just to throw some ideas of what and how many things are wrong here, from a foreigner’s point of view.

  33. Our children's elementary school has one 20 min recess right before lunch. When I was in school, we had both morning and afternoon recess. After a friend got up in arms about recess, I started looking at the research and guess what – she was right – children with recess do better in school, despite having less instructional time.

    "Another experimental study (Jarrett et al., 1998) found that fourth-graders were more on-task and less fidgety in the classroom on days when they had had recess, with hyperactive children among those who benefited the most.

    Does time spent playing or learning actively detract from academic achievement? Research conducted in French and Canadian schools over a period of four years shows positive effects of time spent in physical activity (Martens, 1982). The results of spending one-third of the school day in formal and less formal physical education, in art, and in music were increased fitness, improved attitudes, and slight improvements in test scores. These results are consistent with the findings of a meta-analysis of nearly 200 studies on the effect of exercise on cognitive functioning that suggest that physical activity supports learning (Etnier et al., 1997). "


    This is just one source – there are hundreds!

  34. So, is there an unused playground sitting there and collecting dust? How does that save the school money??

    My younger kids were kicked off a public school playground a couple weeks ago while my oldest was having Little League practice. Apparently, it's only available for the kids who pay for aftercare – at least until after 5. I wonder if your school is like that. Only the kids who pay get to use it?

  35. When I was in school…

    We had a jungle gym/playground outside the elementary school (K-4)

    In Middle school, there were two different cafeterias. If you were in 5th or 7th grade, you would eat in one cafeteria and then could go outside and play on a big patch of grass where you could run, play baseball, etc. If you were in 6th or 8th grade, you ate in the cafeteria and could go outside… to nothing but pavement and three basketball hoops that you could never do anything with anyway because there were always cars parked underneath them.

    In high school, the only time we were allowed to go outside during school hours was during gym. SOMETIMES. My high school ran on a trimester schedule, meaning that we have 60-day rotations. (Meaning I would have Math, English, and Government every day in the same schedule for 60 school days before switching classes.)

    Gym was only a 1 Trimester class, and it was split evenly with Health. What I'm getting at: In an entire 180 day school year, in high school we only got 30 of Gym and 30 of Health. All classes were an hour long.

  36. Recess isn't just about burning the lunch calories. It's good for the brain, too. It hurts my heart to see what we're doing to our kids in this country.

  37. I think that when kids don't get recess, they have a very hard time learning all afternoon. It is very sad that your kids don't get to run around and, well, be kids.

    The best learning, I believe, comes between bouts of energetic play. I'm not just an advocate of recess, I'm an advocate of two recesses per day. I think the kids would benefit from getting the blood pumping through their bodies. I also believe every child should have PE everyday. Period.

  38. Whoa, gym only ONCE A WEEK? In elementary school, the 3rd graders and under had recess 3 times a day, plus lunch break. 4th and 5th graders had 2 recesses.

    This is crazy. Kids are not robots. I look at all these poor kids being drugged instead of given fresh air and exercise. It's not right.

    I think I'm going to become more outspoken on this issue.

  39. Wow. I had heard of schools cutting recess, but never actually from someone who worked at one that had. Physical activity is not just essential for health reasons, research shows that it actually improves people's ability to learn. You might check out John Ratey's book _Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain_ – or even send a copy to your school's administration.

    I think that it's great that you try to incorporate some movement into your students' day despite the lack of recess. This NPR article gives some tips on that:

  40. Kids in Australia have morning tea (or recess) at 11ish and then lunch around 1. Which goes for an hour, only twenty minutes or so of which is for eating lunch and the rest is for running around and playing in. They also have P.E. daily and a new program called Smart Moves. And they have swimming weekly, plus interschool sports for the older primary school students.

    I find it mind-boggling that recess would be cut and gym minimised in some American schools.

  41. Gym once a week and no recess? That's horrible. Our kids have recess and gym every day. As a parent, I wouldn't send my kids to a school that didn't think those were needed regularly. I guess I didn't even think about it as an issue because we don't have that problem in our area.
    Also, I am shocked by the lunches. Our children get 4 choices each day for their lunches and can choose from 5 sides. There are lots of healthy choices and fresh fruits and vegetables. I have eaten the lunch at my kids school and it's good.

  42. I cannot believe that there is no recess where you live. We are required by our state to have a minimum number of minutes per week spent exercising. The kids get PE every other day and recess daily. They also walk the track before recess. What a travesty.

  43. Everyone keeps talking about the schools struggling to pass these government test to keep desperately needed funds. What happens if schools loose funding? Do they shut down?

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