Study Asks: Is There an Ideal Amount of Recess?

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — April 12, 2012 2 min read
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The amount of recess students have varies widely from school to school, and how much time students should spend playing and socializing during school hours has been the subject of some debate. New research in Arizona State University’s Education Policy Analysis Archives hopes to determine whether there is a most-effective way to schedule recess.

In “Recess and Reading Achievement of Early Childhood Students in Public Schools,” researcher Ummuhan Yesil Dagli of Yildiz Technical University in Turkey describes how much time kindergartners around the United States spend in recess and in reading class, and whether that is connected to students’ scores on a reading assessment.

Dagli uses data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Class, a National Center for Educational Statistics-sponsored survey of 22,200 students who started kindergarten in 1998. This study focuses on the 3,951 students enrolled in public, full-day kindergarten for whom all data was present. Students’ reading ability was assessed at the beginning and end of kindergarten, and the length and frequency of recess was determined via a survey of teachers.

It turns out that the amount of time students spend in recess and the amount of reading instruction they receive varies significantly by ethnic background and socioeconomic status. White students and high-income students spend the most time in recess, while black and Hispanic students and students of low-socioeconomic status get less recess. For instance, while only 1.8 percent of white students have no recess, the same is true for 10.7 percent of black students and 8.7 percent of Hispanic students. Of students in the top 20 percent in terms of socioeconomic status, 82.9 percent had recess every day, as opposed to 76.1 percent of those in the bottom 20 percent.

How did all of this variation impact reading scores? Well, it turns out that it didn’t much at all. Certain combinations seemed to yield slightly higher scores, according to the study: “Daily recess, once or three or more times, for a total of 45 minutes or longer; and daily recess, twice, for a total of 31-45 minutes appeared to produce the highest reading scores for students,” followed by students who received a single daily recess for 1-15 minutes. But, she continues, “There is no single answer for the optimal frequency and length of recess that may facilitate students’ reading achievement.” At least two things seem clear: The answer is likely not all-day recess, but neither is it no recess.

Researcher Dagli notes that her findings could be taken to mean that less recess does not decrease reading scores, but she favors the interpretation that more recess does not decrease reading scores—and may lead to social, cognitive, and other benefits. “It allows a child to be a child,” she writes.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.