The Crucial Role of Recess in Schools


  • Special thanks to Dr. Amy Bernard, Associate Professor of Health Promotion and Education at the University of Cincinnati, for her guidance, support, and feedback on this project. The authors also appreciate the input of the Committee on Home and School Health, Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Catherine L. Ramstetter, Assistant Director, (, Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, University of Cincinnati, Langsam 480, Mail Location 0033, PO Box 210033, Cincinnati, OH 45221-0033.


BACKGROUND: Recess is at the heart of a vigorous debate over the role of schools in promoting optimal child development and well-being. Reallocating time to accentuate academic concerns is a growing trend and has put recess at risk. Conversely, pressure to increase activity in school has come from efforts to combat childhood obesity. The purpose of this review was to examine the value of recess as an integral component of the school day.

METHODS: A comprehensive review of recess-specific literature was conducted, beginning with a Google Scholar search, to cull definitions, position statements, and policy recommendations from national/international associations and organizations. A multi-database search followed. Additional articles were selected from reference lists.

RESULTS: The search yielded a range of articles, from those focused on specific aspects of recess to those that examined multiple factors, including how to structure and conduct recess. Several themes emerged supporting recess as beneficial for children's cognitive, social, emotional, and physical functioning. Optimal recess was well-supervised and safe. Crucial components were well-maintained playground equipment and well-trained supervisors.

CONCLUSION: Recess serves a critical role in school as a necessary break from the rigors of academic challenges. Recess is a complement to, not a replacement for, physical education. Both promote activity and a healthy lifestyle; however, recess—particularly unstructured recess and free play—provides a unique contribution to a child's creative, social, and emotional development. From the perspective of children's health and well-being, recess time should be considered a child's personal time and should not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons.