Area schools are wisely using research on recess


Remember recess? Was it a relief? Are your memories mostly about fun and games? Or was it sometimes traumatic, with kids picking on you or others? Turns out that there’s a lot of rethinking going on about recess. In some places, recess unwisely is being eliminated.

Fortunately, Minnesota district and charter public schools seem to be making use of some of the best research about recess. I recently surveyed 43 Minnesota district and charter public schools. Thirty-seven, more than 80 percent, including Robbinsdale and Excell Academy in Brooklyn Park, responded. Literally, every one of the schools has retained daily recess in their elementary schools.

Mary Wolverton, Anoka-Hennepin associate superintendent, told me that the district recently received a Minnesota State Health Improvement Grant to help train faculty “to enhance students physical activity during recess.”

She reported that all 24 A-H elementary schools have recess, 25 minutes a day. She explained, “Staff, parents/guardians consistently view recess as a necessary component of the student’s day. Brain-based research, as well as the national focus on the need for our students to increase physical activity, supports a dedicated time for recess. And of course, our students would concur that recess is highly valued.”

Sabrina Williams, director of Excell Academy in Brooklyn Park, explained that the school has recess for 20 minutes daily. She cited research showing that “recess (time of outdoor air or active movement) refreshes the brain, (and) gives students a physical and motivational boost. It helps or contributes to an increase in student achievement as students’ brains get ‘recharged’ as new waves of oxygen flow through the brain and body. Studies have shown that students were able to concentrate better after a recess period.”


A widely-cited 2005 study by the National Center for Educational Statistics shows that about 7 percent of all public elementary school first through third grade students don’t have any daily recess. This increases to 14 percent in elementary schools that serve 50 percent or more students from minority groups. Almost 20 percent of schools where 75 percent of more of students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch don’t offer daily recess for their first-third graders.

Anthony D. Pellegrini, professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Minnesota, is extremely critical of the “no recess” policy that some schools use. He said no data has ever been presented to show the value of eliminating recess. However, he cited numerous studies documenting that:

· Having a break is very important.

· “By having a break, students learn more when they get back in the classroom.”

· Recess can help youngsters “learn and develop social skills.”

To help realize these benefits, some Minnesota districts are working with a national group called “Playworks,” which trains people who supervise recess. Playworks also helps youngsters learn how to talk positively with each other, and to resolve conflicts. Tom Evers, Twin Cities director of Playworks, shared outside research of communities where Playworks has created programs. This shows that teachers generally think the program has:

· Reduced bullying and “exclusionary behavior.”

· Increased student safety.

· Reduced the time it takes to make a transition from recess back to classroom learning activities. (Check out

Tom Dooher, president of Education Minnesota, wrote to me, “The focus on pumping up test scores becomes counterproductive when it squeezes out activities like recess. Children, particularly young children, learn more when they take breaks and move around,” Dooher said. “Educators know this from experience and now it’s being confirmed by independent researchers.”


Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, [email protected]