Guidelines for Recess Promotion
Adapted from the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA’s) Guidelines on Recess Promotion (2012)
The American Occupational Therapy Association has released some fabulous guidelines (2012) and information for understanding why morning tea (recess) breaks in school are so important to children’s learning, concentration and general development. It notes significant references to research over the last 10 years which supports the importance of keeping recess on the school time table.
It is so important that recess be a time where students feel safe and have the opportunity to participate in physical activity.
Recess defined: active, free play with peers.
Recess is an important part of each school day and an opportune time to implement innovative programs to address a variety of issues related to school performance including play and social participation. Recess is an important time for students to develop important performance skills in the areas of emotional regulation and communication and social skills.
The problem: School districts are cutting the amount of time devoted to recess in order to increase the amount of instruction time. A study by the Center on Education Policy found that 20% of districts recently reduced recess by 50 minutes per week in order to dedicate more time to academics (Ramstetter, Murray, & Garner, 2010).
Benefits of recess
• Increased opportunity for engagement in social participation, improved physical and emotional health, development of leisure and play to counteract the imbalance between sedentary and physical activity, and preparation of the body and mind for attentiveness and engagement in the classroom.
• Recess is a time to “recharge [students’] bodies and minds” (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2010, p. 4). Play in any form is a stress reliever from the world of more and more academic instruction and benchmark testing (Miller & Almon, 2009).
• Better classroom behaviors are found in classrooms receiving at least one 15-minute recess break each day (Barros, Silver, & Stein, 2009).
• Attention to classroom tasks is improved after recess time (Holmes, Pellegrini, & Schmidt, 2006).
• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2000) recommend that elementary (primary) school children participate in recess at regularly scheduled periods during the school day. Recess should be supervised by trained adults who can encourage physical activity, enforce rules, and prevent bullying. Appealing equipment and materials should be provided.
• The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE; 2004) recommends elementary (primary) school children have unstructured play time in order to increase physical activity and encourage enjoyment of movement. Recess should not replace physical
education and should not be withheld as punishment. NASPE also suggests recess be supervised by qualified adults to facilitate conflict resolution and enforce safety rules.
• The National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments (2002) of Education recognizes recess as an “essential component of education” and recognizes the restorative effect of recess for students with attention disorders (Ramstetter et al., 2010).
Why should teachers, parents and therapists care about recess?
• Only 36% of children meet doctor’s recommendations for daily physical activity.
• Recess represents about half the available time for children to dedicate to physical activity.
• Recess may be removed because of behavior problems. Recess staff may need strategies for how to structure recess to promote positive behavior and reduce problem behaviors.
• Removing access to recess is sometimes used as a punishment for behaviour problems in class. However, it is often these children who need recess the most. Their body’s sensory needs are craving movement and muscle input (which is calming to the nervous system),
and will help them recover from sedentary time spent in class and prepare their body for increased concentration and attention in the classes to follow.
A 2010 study showed that urban schools and schools with 75% of students receiving free lunch have LESS recess time than rural & suburban schools. (Ramstetter et al., 2010) The American Occupational Therapy Association (2012) suggests three levels of intervention strategies at varying levels of intensity that could be implemented in schools to support a variety of students:
Tier 1—Universal (whole-school efforts emphasizing promotion and prevention)
• Promote physical health through meaningful activities. For example, implementation of a “Recess Activities of the Week” (e.g., Frisbee golf, dancing, obstacle course) program to increase motivation to participate and be active (Sinclair, 2008).
• Having an understanding that throughout the school day, there needs to be balance between child-initiated and teacher-led activities, active and passive activities, and indoor and outdoor activities to maximize young children’s ability to attend to learning activities (Holmes, Pellegrini, & Schmidt, 2006).
• Ensure appropriate and safe equipment on school playgrounds.
Tier 2—Targeted (prevention and early intervention for students at risk of developing mental health challenges)
• Collaborate with the physical education teacher and playground staff to identify students who struggle with social participation or physical activity during recess time. Target play activities for this “at-risk” group by reducing barriers, modifying a playground apparatus, or
by offering a range of challenges to this select group.
• Partner with local physiotherapists and or dietitions to provide obesity prevention programs.
• Offer staff trainings on bullying prevention and monitoring for signs of concussion. Work collaboratively with school counsellors and psychologists.
Tier 3—Intensive individualized interventions (for students identified with mental health challenges or illness)
• Modify activities and environments for greater inclusion for students with disabilities or mental health challenges
• Promote social participation for children with emotional disorders by teaching peer models to provide pivotal response training (Harper, 2008).
• Form a motor skills play groups during recess time for students with identified coordination issues.
Occupational Therapy’s Role in Addressing Recess Time
American Occupational Therapy Association. (2011). Building play skills for healthy children and families. Retrieved February 13, 2012, from
American Occupational Therapy Association. (2012). Recess promotion. Retrieved April 13, 2012, from http://www.aota.org/Practitioners/PracticeAreas/Pediatrics/New/Recess.aspx?FT=.pdf
Barros, R., Silver, E., & Stein, R. (2009). School recessand group classroom behavior. Pediatrics, 123 (2), 431–436. doi: 10.1542/peds.2007-2825 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2000).
Promoting better health for young people through physical activity and sports. Retrieved March 27, 2008, from http://www.cdc.gov/Healthy Youth/physicalactivity/promoting health/pdfs/ppar.pdf. Accessed March 27, 2008.
Harper, C. B. (2008). Recess is time-in: Using peers to improve social skills of children with autism.
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38, 815–826.
Holmes, R., Pellegrini, A., & Schmidt, S. (2006). The effects of different recess timing regimens on preschoolers’ classroom attention. Early Child Development and Care, 176 (7), 735–743. doi: 10.1080/03004430500207179
Miller, E., & Almon, J. (2009). Crisis in the kindergarten: Why children need to play in school.
Retrieved February 16, 2012, from www.allianceforchildhood.org National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education. (2002).
Recess and the importance of play: A positions Statement on young children and Recess. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.govERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_Se archValue_0=ED463047&ERICExtSearchSearchType_0=no&accno=ED463047 National Association for Sport and Physical Education.
(2004). Physical activity for children: A statement of guidelines for children ages 5–12. Reston, VA: Author. National Association for Sport and Physical Education. (2006). Recess for elementary school students [Position paper]. Reston, VA: Author.
National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education. (2002). Recess and the importance of play: a position statement on young children and recess. Retrieved November 9, 2007, from at: http://www.naecs-sde.org/recessplay.pdf.
Ramstetter, C.L., Murray, R., & Garner, A.S. (2010). The crucial role of recess in Schools. Journal of School Health, 80(11), 517–526.
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2007). Recess rules: Why the undervalued playtime may be the best investment for healthy kids and healthy schools. Retrieved from www.rwjf.org/goto/sports4kids.
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, (2010). State of play: Gallup survey of principals on school recess.
Retrieved on February 14, 2012 from http://www.rwjf.org/files/research/stateofplayrecessreportgallup.pdf
Sinclair, C. S. (2008). Recess activities of the week (RAW): Promoting free time physical activity to combat childhood obesity. Strategies, 21(5), 21–24.