How ensuring daily recess leads to positive health outcomes

By Kate Huber and Sarah Whiteway

Spring is approaching and it’s time to get outside! Whether a teacher, student, or caregiver, our team at Creating Healthy Schools and Communities is here to remind you that getting a well-deserved break from the indoors is just what you need for overall mental and physical health benefits. Let’s face it, when we work hard to focus, we need a movement break.

Recess, defined as unstructured play in an environment that allows for physical activity, has been reduced in most school districts due to time and space constraints. Unfortunately, recess is taken away from students for behavior issues or for not completing academic work. During the cold winter months, schools are often unable to find appropriate indoor space to hold recess, or students don’t have adequate clothing for outdoor play. These constraints have resulted in 85% of Western New York elementary school students not getting daily recess.

To add to the problem, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirms that childhood obesity has more than tripled in the U.S. since the 1970s. Here in Western New York, obesity is at an all-time high and only 16% of youth are getting the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity.

Here are five reasons why recess is needed more than ever. 1) Recess is essential in helping children learn social skills. 2) Recess provides the opportunity for children to have a safe place to release their energy and improve their physical fitness. 3) Unstructured playtime fosters creativity and the ability to expand their thinking on a higher level. 4) Adequate recess time helps prevent misbehavior inside the classroom. 5) Recess improves students’ ability to focus in class, which leads to higher reading and math scores.

CDC research is also clear about the academic benefit of recess, noting that test scores improve when students are given a chance to move and recharge. Recess also helps to improve memory, attention, and concentration. All of this works toward the goal of helping students with staying on-task in the classroom, reducing disruptive behavior, and improving their social and emotional development. Some say recess could be renamed “social skills practice time” because it provides students with an opportunity to work on their conflict resolution skills, build friendships, and relax, all of which are vital for social emotional learning.

Want to make sure your kids have the benefit of recess? Parent-involvement can make a difference! Consider becoming actively involved in plans for recess at your child’s school. Ask teachers about their recess policy. Do the children go outside every day, or only during nice weather? How long is recess? Do the children lose recess because of behavior issues? If parents are not happy with the answers to these questions, there is an opportunity to become a recess advocate to educate teachers, administrators, and other parents about the importance of recess. You can start by sharing this article, or by joining the school or district wellness committee. To learn more about the Creating Healthy Schools and Communities program visit and follow us on twitter at CreatingHealthy.

Kate Huber and Sarah Whiteway are Creating Healthy Schools and Communities Coordinators at Erie 1 BOCES.