Why No Recess is a Huge Mistake

I just wanted to remind you that my students have no recess. To say it breaks my heart is an understatement. I’ve blogged about it before but I know there are some new readers… Yes, there is no recess…only once a week gym.

I’ve talked to some of the “old timers” at my school and they tell me that there used to be recess, but it was cut. It happened before my time so I can’t comment on why, but I think it needs to change. There are some bitterly cold days here that would make venturing out a bad idea, but in general it’s just plain common sense that kids should get outside as much as possible.

Yesterday’s weather was in the 40 to 50 degree range. At daycare my son went outside with his class — they went for a walk. It was there first of the year. Why couldn’t my students at my school get that chance? The school day should be lengthened to accommodate recess. It’s not a choice — it’s an imperative. I believe many behavior problems would start resolving themselves. Improve school lunches and look out!

Watch this newstory from PBS linking physical activity and increases in reading and math. To me, it’s a no brainer:

Chicagoland Students See Success Hitting the Gym, Then Hitting the Books The video is below:

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49 thoughts on “Why No Recess is a Huge Mistake

  1. Couldn't agree with you more. They really took out recess? Other studies have shown that a short recess before lunch actually helps to cut down the madness in the cafeteria…and keeps the kids eating longer rather than swallowing their food and rushing out (IF they had recess).

  2. Amen, amen, amen. I am one of those "old-timers" who remembers 2 recesses a day and lunch cooked on the premises (yum) by caring and capable "lunch ladies". In the test-preparation centers that public schools have become, we have thrown out a lot of common sense.

  3. I agree! I find it unbelievable that they could do this. I remember when I was in school, we had indoor recess on cold days. We could play educational board games or even some games that involved moving the desks and racing to see who could touch the right answer to a question. It was always a nice way to get energy out and another chance in the day to be educated.

    I think schools have forgotten that there is more than just one type of learning. Kids need to develop social skills, learn to work together and interact with what they've learned in the real world.

    Do you think the Let's Move! movement will work for a change in this area?

  4. My son's school has recess at random. Sometimes they'll go a month with no recess, other times they'll have it everyday. I think letting them go outside for a solid 15 minutes would get some of the ants in their pants out and give them a chance to focus more. It dumbfounds me that schools are taking away recess!

  5. My sons' CPS school has one 10-minute recess a day, but only outdoors if it's above freezing. When it's "too cold," which in my mind is more like below 15F, they can draw, play bingo, or have a few other choices of indoor activities–NOT a substitute for outdoor physical activity. And this week, though it's been above freezing, the playground is "too messy". I can also imagine that kindergartners changing into and out of boots and coats could take up most of the 10 minutes, which I suspect is part of the reason they basically blow it off during the colder months. They have gym twice a week, despite Illinois law requiring it every day. I think that schools can get a waiver to have fewer than that if they can't afford it/don't have resources (can someone clarify?). It's so frustrating! I would love a longer school day, with proper amounts of recess and PE–it's great to hear that a teacher agrees!

  6. Do people really wonder why we have an obesity problem and why kids dont want to play outside rather than play video games? They are not getting shown that playing is important to their health! They should have recess AND gym daily! They need a brain drain and an energy drain!

  7. In response to Holly S.-I used to work at a school where we would take the kids outside if it was above freezing. You have to keep in consideration that not every child has proper winter clothing, and some parents don't have the money or forget to send them with hats and gloves. I think it's better to keep kids inside and let them run around in a gym rather than make them go outside. I can't tell you how many times we went outside when the weather was around freezing and instead of playing, the majority of the kids would crowd around the teachers and complain that they are cold.

  8. That is so sad. I can't imagine teaching kids who have not had a chance to spend some time outside each day and I totally agree with the previous poster who said that there is a lot of learning that occurs while students are outside on the playground and they need that time to develop and struggle with social situations in order to develop into fully functioning people.

  9. I'd like to preference this suggestion with the disclaimer that I'm not a teacher, nor am I a parent. I do, however, have an interest in the future of this country and the world at large. One can hardly do that without thinking of the education of our youth.

    This might be totally unreasonable suggestion, but is there any reason you couldn't teach a part of your day outside, once a week or something? I can think of a hundred ways to connect a science, health, or even math to something outdoors. Is this a totally unfeasible idea?


  10. I couldn't agree more! Especially when you consider the amount of sugar many kids are eating for lunch. Aside from the obesity conserns, they NEED to burn off some of that energy. Does your school have a good PTO/PTA? I am willing to bet that you will find A LOT of teachers and parents on your side.
    My son's school has recess in the gym when it's too cold to go outside. There are intentionally no gym classes scheduled during recess time.

    1. Also High school kids dont get any recess. Schools need to quit just thinking about them selves and trying make a better school. But the only way that can happen is if we as in high school kids would have more than just lunch for our recess. Also my schools only gives us 3 minutes to get our stuff out of our locker and use the bathroom and get a drink befor the next class. Thats not a very good program if you ask me.

  11. I thought it was an Illinois law to have a certain amount of PE time. In our district the kids K-4 get 30 min of PE 4 days a week, and the 5th day is "teacher directed PE" which differs from normal recess because it is some type of organized game. I was under the impression we did all this because of an IL law.

  12. Are you allowed to take your kids outside yourself?

    In high school we obviously didn't have recess, but I did have one AMAZING English teacher who would take us outside every other week for class (weather permitting). We'd all sit in a circle around her and she would teach. It was wonderful and class was never dull. Those classes are actually some of my fondest high school memories.

  13. that's so sad 🙁 growing up in New Zealand we had 30 minutes or so 'recess' in the morning to eat our snack and play on the playground (in fact, it was called 'playtime' even in high school LOL) until the bell rang and another 45min-hour at lunch to eat and run around. School is 845/9am-245/3pm there though. I know my brothers have the same now going to school in NZ. If I send my son to school here and find out he doesn't get any time to move outside he will be going elsewhere…

  14. What is really driving me crazy is how my kids are spending their gym classes. Oh, yeah, it's that wonderful time of the year– the "Presidential Physical Fitness Test!" Does Mrs. Obama have a clue that her husband's "name" is on these ridiculous activities that are a monumental waste of time? Instead of using the indoor rock wall or basketball hoops we have, instead of running in circles out in fresh air, instead of dodgeball, kickball or volleyball, my kids are doing push-ups. Because it really matters how many sit-ups a 6 year old can do. Or how far my 9 year old can go in the standing long jump. How boring is that stuff! That's enough to turn ANY kid against gym class. (Stepping off soapbox now.)

    1. The Presidential Fitness Test dates back to sometime in the 80’s. I think Reagan started it. I remember having to do that when I was in school.

      1. I was under the impression that the presidential physical fitness testing (under various names) had been going on since the 60s.

  15. I agree with you. I am thankful our school sees value in recess and gym, they have both everyday. We live in MN where it's cold and the kids go out for recess in their snow gear. Even in gym they have outdoor activities during the winter. They just finished up skiing and snow shoeing in gym.

  16. As a kid, I never thought the Presidential Physical Fitness Test was boring or a waste. I actually enjoyed seeing how many I could do, or how far I could jump. It was one of the few school activities, of any sort, that actually made me feel good about myself.

  17. My point about those fitness tests is that the time could be better spent. They usually only get one gym class a week, 30 minutes. When those minutes are spent holding someone else's feet, counting how many sit ups they can do, I have a problem with that. And when they have quality equipment not being used during that time, it's even more vexing. When my kids come home and say they hate doing it and would rather be doing something active instead, I see it as a waste.

  18. I have been living in France for the past 4 months as an English Assistant (I teach English to 8-11 years old). They receive two half hour recesses (once in the morning and once in the afternoon). They also have PE, but it's not everyday. It is really great though to just see kids running around and playing. It reminds me of when I was in grade school. All of the kids still learn a lot, but they get to run off all the extra energy which is great for learning in the classroom.

  19. This sort of thing is mandated by state, isn't it? Our kids get recess daily from 1st through 5th grade. If it's too cold or there's some other safety factor, they get "indoor recess" because they really do need a break. In addition to this, P.E. is twice weekly.

    Half-day kindergartners may or may not get recess daily, but it's only a 2.5 hour day with a lot of learning to fit in, plus they can have outside time at home.

  20. This is the perfect post for me today! I had a frustrating experience at the school where I work today. I teach first grade, and I have a behavior program where my students earn a special activity at the end of each day for excellent behavior. The program works really well, as the children really work hard each day to earn their time of playing in the classroom, on the computers, or playing a board game with me. Sometimes we watch an educational movie. Today it was 61 degrees outside…which is a huge change! I live in Massachusetts, so we have had a horrible winter. I decided today to take the kids outside to reward them for their behavior. They were so excited! They have hardly been outside at all lately. On my way outside, the principal of my school told me "Don't let this happen again." I cannot understand why she was so angry with me for taking first graders outside for ten minutes at the very end of the day. She knows they play at the end of the day, so it can't be a matter of her being mad that they are missing instructional time. I'm really not sure what her reasoning is, but I don't regret my decision to take them outside. I was dying for some fresh air…and I imagine the kids were too!

  21. Why don't you take them out yourself? I am a teacher and we have recess but we have to take them out ourselves.

  22. Anon, Thanks for being the type of teacher that would take the initiative to get your kids outside. I also live in Mass and I am lucky to have daily recess for my kindergartener when the weather is good ( even when it isn't perfect the let them go out for half the time). Today was such a beautiful day here I can't imagine depriving anyone ( no matter what age) of some time to enjoy it after the winter we have been having. It is a shame your principal can't see the happiness you brought to them.

  23. Lately I've seen some public service ads on TV advocating the fact that all children need 60 minutes of physical activity daily. This made me laugh ruefully because… well… let's do the math:

    Morning recess: 15 minutes
    Lunch break/recess: 30-45 minutes
    Afternoon recess: 15 minutes
    Grand total: 60-75 minutes!

    Well hot damn! Look at that! All 60 minutes of running around spazzing out and exercising all before they're even done with school. All for the low, low commitment of BRINGING BACK RECESS and giving kids time to run around and play after they're done eating.

    I'm sorry. I am not a rocket scientist. How is it that I can put two and two together but somehow the bureaucrats who cut recess in the first place CAN'T do that math? >:|

  24. Sorry to double comment, but I just saw Anon 5:56's comment about the principal ripping her a new one for DARING to take her kids out at the end of the day. Betcha anything it's because you're doing something right that is making all the other staff look bad. Kids will look out the window and see YOUR kids playing and want to play too… and heavens knows we can't have that (<–sarcasm)

    I mean really, can you imagine if kids in the room next door went home and informed their parents that OTHER kids got to play outside today? The scandal! Why, parents might be outraged to learn that their kids are being deprived valuable time to go play. Heaven forbid! No no, we must stamp out this sensibility before it takes hold of the kids, staff, and parents, too. (<–more sarcasm)

  25. Wow, no recess, you teach elementary school right?

    My son is entering K next year and I was complaining to my husband that they only have 15 minutes of recess a day plus varying amounts with lunch. I can't imagine keeping a group of young children cooped up inside all day – that's a recipe for insanity – for both the kids and the teachers.

    And let me just say "thank you" to you and all the other teachers who have commented on this issue and are going above and beyond in order to ensure their students get what they need. I hope my sons have teachers like you.

  26. Teachers can apply for teacher-guided recess, which is principal-approved. I love the idea of going outside and sitting under a tree to learn a lesson too. It doesn't happen that often. Practicing fire drills (randomly and unofficially) is a great way to get in some spontaneous exercise too!

  27. It's pretty amazing just in the time since I've been out of school (about 8 years) how much things have changed. Basically having to apply for exercise time?! This makes me think of another issue that plagues young people…over medicating. It was still in the early stages when I was growing up, but seems more prevelant now. I can't help but connect kids being fed pills for ADD/ADHD and the huge lack of exercise opportunities in schools now.

  28. how pathetic! does your school/district have a parent/staff/community advisory group who is responsible for direction of district wellness policy? if you follow spork aware winner dana woldow's advice (as found on her website, and numerous article on the lunch tray blog) you should be able to create a wellness policy with teeth, get school board to support it, then have it implemented to all campuses. it's not as easy as waving a wand and poof- now there's recess, it may take years to get a group organized, deploy resources and make it happen, but that is the way I'd go about it.

  29. First let me state that I agree that kids need recess and breaks during the school day, but now that I have children about to start kindergarten, I've noticed that along with eliminating recess, the school day has gotten shorter. My twins will be in "all-day" kindergarten next year. "All-day" equals 5.5 hours. They'll be home by 1:30. Elementary school students (Gr. 1-5) are at school for 6 hours including lunch and recess. When I was in elementary school (circa 1980, and in a different state) the school day was 7 hours (8:30-3:30) including a 30 min. lunch and a 30 min. recess in the middle of the day plus a 30 min. recess before and after school for those who rode the bus (the elementary school was local and the middle/high schools were in town, 30 min. away).

    Are the shorter days part of the reason schools have eliminated recess? They have to teach more information for standardized tests but they have less time during the day to teach. How many hours do most elementary aged students spend in school? How do the number of hours compare to operating hours from 10, 20, or 30 years ago?

  30. Our school principal said that we are one of few schools that still has a "physical activity break" at lunch time in our area. She also said with budget cuts, this may go away soon, as having the physical activity break means they must have four lunch time monitors, not just two. (Two inside, two outside.)

    I have to say, as a parent, I'd be willing to volunteer once a week for a few hours to allow the kids to go outside and run around. I'm guessing we'd have enough other parents to keep the activity break. I think it's very important for the kids to get that break to blow off some energy.

  31. Andrea–that's something that I've been wondering out loud on this blog for a long time now. Why don't more parents (who have the time and ability to) offer to volunteer as recess monitors? Even if there's only enough volunteers to let the kids out one day a week, it's still better than nothing at all. I don't get it. Please let us know if your proposition works. It really seems like such a simple solution, you know?

  32. I teach elementary in an Oregon town, and we have to 15 minute recesses plus a 30 minute lunch recess. The kids have PE twice a week, not enough in my opinion, but I guess I should be grateful! What I really like, though, is that our kids earn extra PE time and extra recess as rewards for good behavior, attendance, etc. So much better than earning candy! We also have a nutritionist who visits our classes. All this seems normal and right to me, but I will be more thankful from now on! What a crime to remove physical activity from our kids' days.

  33. I never think of myself as having been a particularly physically active kid. I was as happy as anything to sit on my behind for long periods reading a book or playing a video or board game, or playing with my dolls. But even I recall running like a wild thing, jumping rope, scaling the jungle gym, etc. every day during recess, morning and lunch, and then after school going swimming (swim team practice) hard, pretty much non-stop for a minimum of an hour. Again, that was EVERY DAY…for a not overly active kid. I can't imagine how they expect kids (especially the hyperactive ones) to focus without a chance to burn off their abundance of natural energy. It seems madness to me. Our teachers used to take us out for 'surprise' recesses too, sometimes, I suppose when we were particularly wiggly, and let us play us things like Cat & Mouse and Red Rover that had us running.

  34. No recess for elementary students is the most idiotic idea ever. Kids NEED to move. Not only does it allow them to get the blood flowing but it also gives their brains a break from the stresses of the classroom. I'm lucky that the schools in our state still have recesses. In the district I work for most elementary schools have 2 recesses, some 3. When it rains too much to let the kids outside, we have "indoor recess" in the classrooms – board or card games, drawing, reading. Everyone dreads having indoor recess because the kids don't get to "let loose" all the pent up energy and we tend to see a lot more behavior issues. Kids need time to be kids, too.

  35. I just caught this in my feed – I can't believe it. How does recess get cut due to funding issues? And I just can't believe what some of the other posters have been saying. I'm always wounded when I hear that art and music have been cut, but recess??? I am dumbfounded.

    I guess we are very fortunate at our school. The kids get recess at lunch. If the weather is bad, it's indoor recess. With this warm thaw we've had, the playground was a massive lake. They still had recess – it was just moved to part of the parking lot that was roped off – anything to get the kids out and running about. Recess is every day, and then one day each week they have special outdoor time, and then my son has gym twice each week.

    I couldn't imagine them taking recess away. We wouldn't allow it, and we'd have a lot of volunteers stepping up – I would definitely be out there – so that the kids could have play time.

  36. Not all children use recess to run around a track or something for exercise. Recess was still there when I was in elementary school, but I was the type to either swing on the swings or sit under a tree and read. I do admit children need a small break in the day and recess should have never been cut – but then again, also at my elementary teachers loved to use recess as a small detention where the student had to stand near the doors and were not allowed to move or talk to anyone.

  37. So just feed crap to the kids and don’t give ’em a chance to get rid of it?

    @Dawn: True, “not all children use recess to run around a track or something for exercise”. And, as you mention, kids need breaks and recess is needed. In my opinion, it should be required because sitting for prolonged periods of time is just as bad as smoking. Additionally, kids need that time to think about something other than schoolwork or to take a break from their professors/teachers.

    Kevin :: Glycotrainer
    On Twitter: @glycotrainer
    Web Site: http://www.GlycoTrainer.com

  38. I totally agree with you. I think that any outside activity is a good thing now days. Between video games, TV and Computers kids don’t get enough physical exercise or activity. In my house the rule is, If the sun is out electronics are off limits. And I stick to it. My kids still ride bikes, Climb tree’s and play tag in the neighborhood and their friends have followed suite since they are not allowed to play in other peoples houses if its pretty outside. Recess at school also offers a moment to get out some energy so they can concentrate in class. My daughters 5th grade teacher is amazing and not only do they get normal recess but she has set aside class time for good behavior that consists of an extra recess.

  39. I am so pissed off they dont have recess anymore. My daughter was attending a charter school in Grand Prairie, TX. She is in the 5th grade but they dont even get a break and have PE twice a week and they are graded on going to PE twice a week…..grrrrr. I am moving to Gulfport, MS and kind of dreading the public school system but I have learned the Gulfcoast has pretty good schools. I WILL be taking a look at their lunches though. Her last school gave just “enough” to be compliant……….whatever.

  40. I know I’m late to the discussion here, but the school day does NOT have to be lengthened in order to accommodate recess. I went to school for only 6 hours a day and we had a half-hour scheduled recess every single day. This was in addition to the teacher’s taking us out for 20 minutes or so in the morning or afternoon.

    I just learned that our local elementary school (which meets for almost 7 hours a day) has a 20-minute recess which may or may not happen, depending on the teacher and her schedule. In addition, the children are not allowed to play tag! The theory is they might get hurt running around like that. Heavens! Yes, let’s not let them run at recess.

    1. I am so glad you brought up this topic. I am so mad at this no recess thing. Not only was recess my favorite time of day, but it is absolutely necessary at the elementary school level for children to run off any excess energy. My son’s kindergarten teacher took recess away for three straight days. Then she had the audacity to say that she could not understand why the kids wouldn’t behave and be quiet. I looked at as if she just come from Mars. I tried to off-handily mention that in 1985 when I was in kindergarten that we only went to school for four hours a day and that we had a 30 minute recess. I told her how glad I was of it because being cooped up in class made me antsy when I was little. She told me it was her prerogative to discipline the children by taking there fun away when they wouldn’t behave. I withdrew my child from school and enrolled him a private school. Enough is enough.

  41. Studies consistently show that kids (especially boys and kids with attention issues and sensory integration issues) perform better on academics if allowed time to run, swing and play outside. They attend better in the classroom, show less behavior problems and do better on tests. The U.S. has made some grave mistakes in education in the 21st century. What children used to do in first grade is now taught in kindergarten. This seems to be caused by comparing ourselves to international test score AVERAGES with homogenous countries. An interesting note: Finland, with the highest international test scores in math and science do not start teaching reading until age 7. They allow kids to explore, play, create etc. We need to pay teachers more so to attract those that are very smart and can really prepare our kids for a competitive market. (Instead we’ve intensified the academics, have unprepared teachers and have to teach kids ourselves and/or pay for tutors…and “no play whatsoever, allowed, until those grades come up, buddy! ” What are we doing to our kids??)

    1. I know I’m late to the party in this discussion, but it needs to continue. Kids these days have forgotten how to play! Maybe it’s the fact that some of them can’t be outside because the neighborhood is bad, maybe there is too many other things to do or maybe we as adults have helped take away most of the opportunities for them to play, like recess. Children are resilient, if you give them enough opportunities to play they will figure it out and just play. Maybe it will be a game that involves a skill from a sport that they are interested in or maybe they will make up their own game, with rules that we as adults would never understand, It doesn’t matter. As a Physical ed. teacher in Chicago, I find that my students just need to move more. If it helps them in school, great. If it helps them find something to do for the rest of their lives, great. If it does both and keeps them form getting into issues with gangs, fantastic!
      If we are going to have recess, let’s do it, but we don’t have to make it like a class, let’s let kids be kids and we as adults can intercede when necessary

  42. I’m proud to say that I worked for this organization when they were just starting. Now they’ve gone national! Playworks addresses the issue of the NEED for recess and how to help organize games and activities to cut down on the playground conflicts and get more students participating. Check them out at: http://www.playworks.org/

  43. Recess – I would love to have it, especially since our middle school is going to a 90 minute block schedule next school year. I teach 8th grade and my kids beg to go outside. Sometimes we sneak and open my side door and sit just outside the door reading. But recess is a double-edged sword. First, I agree it is necessary. There would be fewer behavior problems, students could pay attention better, and what a relief for the ADHD kids. But with lots of today’s students, free social activity is often a lawsuit waiting to happen. Just about every day I deal with problems that stem from an inability to socialize properly with others. For example, during lunch students often harass or bully other students. Some kids access porn on their cell phones. i have kids I keep on eye on because they simply can’t keep their hands off others. And yes, I keep on eye on all of them, but they can see me coming if they are doing something inappropriate. Students will lie or cover up for others, as well. I’m sorry to say, but the majority of our kids are not well socialized enough for recess to be safe. I’m sure there are solutions, like intense supervision and small groups. But were will the time and staff come from to do that?

  44. Yes. I think all kids should have recess because it is good for their health. If they don’t get exercise, they will end up being overweight or obese

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