ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Investing in Healthy Recess to Nurture the Whole Child

Post submitted by Jill Vialet, founder and CEO of whole child partner Playworks

A healthy, positive school environment transcends what goes on in the classroom. In fact, what happens at recess holds a crucial key to developing the whole child. A school that provides time and space for students to run, talk, and play helps ensure every child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. Experience and research tell us that active students learn better, and daily recess is proven to help students focus in the classroom.

Unfortunately, recess can also be a headache. Elementary school principals say they face the most behavior issues at recess. Recess supervision can be challenging, compounding the stresses on a staff already spread thin with other responsibilities. And the demands on the schoolyard really are greater than we remember, with students often relying more on adult support in solving conflicts and many children stepping onto the playground knowing fewer games than did previous generations.

Investing in recess can lessen playground headaches, and a recent study shows it can even contribute to the overall school climate. Playworks is a national nonprofit that works across the country leveraging recess and play to promote learning and physical activity. By providing both a direct service model and training, over the past 15 years we've seen recess become a tool of change. By placing just one trained adult on the school playground, we've changed the dynamic by teaching students rules to games, tools to solve conflicts, and a system to promote a positive play environment. And although teachers and principals report our impact every year, we now have the evidence-based research that substantiates their experience. A rigorous, randomized control study found that a safe, inclusive recess can reduce bullying, improve behavior, and nurture safer schools. Researchers from Mathematica Policy Research and Stanford University compared schools with Playworks to a control group with no interventions. This new research contributes to a growing body of evidence that a safe and healthy recess environment is a key driver of better behavior and learning—and can benefit the entire school day.


We're very excited about what this research says about how schools can support learning with a healthy recess. Here are some of the findings:

  • Less bullying. Teachers in Playworks schools reported less bullying and exclusionary behavior during recess than teachers in control schools.
  • Better recess behavior and readiness for class. Teachers at Playworks schools tended to report better student behavior at recess and readiness for class than teachers at control schools, and they were more likely to report that their students enjoyed adult-organized recess activities.
  • More time for teaching. Teachers in Playworks schools reported having fewer difficulties and spending significantly less time transitioning to learning activities after recess than teachers in control schools. Playworks students were also more likely than control students to report better behavior and attention in class after sports, games, and play.
  • Safer schools. Teachers in Playworks schools perceived that students felt safer and more included at recess compared to teachers in control schools.

The exciting thing is that these results do more than substantiate the Playworks program. They show that it is possible to create a recess that goes beyond the necessary outlet kids need during the school day. By investing in recess—and in properly training the adults to model healthy and inclusive play every day—we can create healthier, happier students and develop the whole child. Need support with recess? Check out Playworks Training.

How does your school invest in the power of recess?

Comments (2)

Douglas W. Green, EdD

May 15, 2012

When I was a principal at a k-5 school with 500+ students (90% poverty, 25% refugees) I felt that recess was my class. I didn’t leave it to chance and I supervised it almost every day. I let kids go out as soon as they finished eating so in most cases kids got about 45 minutes each day. I made sure we had plenty of balls, jump ropes, and other equipment to keep kids busy and I expected all to be active even if they were just walking and talking. I made sure my adult supervision was spread out and watching for visual evidence of kids being mean to each other. It is pretty easy to spot if you’re on your toes. On bad weather days I opened the gym and other rooms inside for activities. The idea of having a district recess policy is one all districts should consider. Keep up the good work and check out my daily efforts at http://DrDougGreen.Com


May 22, 2012

I wish we have a principal like you here in Old Bridge, NJ who really cares on children’s wellfare. Recently my 3rd grade 9 year old son got in trouble because he and his friend were still playing tag after the recess bell rang. They were supposed to be in line quietly while waiting for the class’ turn to have a spot at the gym to eat lunch. On my son’s side of story, he and his friend were just tapping each other’s shoulder not really playing tag (playing tag requires running). My son and his friend were in line not really bothering the class but it bothered the noon supervisor. My son and his friend were asked to apologize to the whole class and everybody were punished to wait and wasted a few more minutes of their time to start their lunch. My son got so upset and he commented to his classmate “I wish I can punch Mrs. P”. One of the classmate over heard and told on him. The comment was considered a threat so he got suspended for the rest of the afternoon. Zero tolerance is school policy and it is not new to me because I was raise on zero tolerance. My concern was how the principal handled my son. He was interrogated like he already committed an assault/battery. There were two incident, one was during recess that need a warning not suspension and the other was a comment. My son was told he was wrong and asks to reflect how his actions impact those around him. He admitted what he did during recess and his comment. He was very confuse and crying because he thought he did wrong but he did not punch Mrs. P but the way the principal talk to him he did an assault not a threat. My son understood he was wrong and never to say threatening words to anyone. I agree to the suspension as punishment but I think the noon supervisor and the principal handled the situation unfairly just for the sake of doing their job. I am going to meet with the principal next week and will address all my concern. Any advice will be appreciated. Thank you for your blog.

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