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Student Well-Being

The Secret to a More Active Recess? Get the Adults Involved, Research Says

By Sarah D. Sparks — August 21, 2018 2 min read

Recess provides more than a quarter of the physical activity students get at school, and a new study suggests tweaks to its structure can ensure students get the most exercise for their recess time.

In particular, students got moving more vigorously when they had longer recess and more adults involved in their play, according to the new study in the journal Preventative Medicine Reports.

Researchers from Oregon State University attached fitness trackers to 146 4th to 6th graders to record their activity throughout the school day, and conducted separate recess observations of more than 8,300 students in nine schools.

Recess made up less than 6 percent of the students’ day, but the fitness tracker data showed it accounted for 27 percent of their daily steps—roughly 42 steps per minute, and even more for boys.

While recess averaged about 23 minutes across schools, Massey and his colleagues found that when students had recess periods closer to 30 minutes, they were more physically active throughout the period than students with shorter recess.

“Interestingly, our data suggest that if you give children more time, they are more active with the time they have,” said William Massey, Oregon State assistant professor and lead author of the study, in a statement.

The findings come as several groups of parents and educators around the country have begun to successfully advocate for longer recess time:

Importance of Adult Engagement

Yet the researchers also observed how students interacted on the playground: Fighting might be active, for example, but it’s hardly conducive to healthy behaviors in school.

In prior research, Massey and his colleagues have developed a tool to help school administrators evaluate their social and physical recess environments. The current study found the strongest predictor of how much students got involved in healthy physical activity was the level of adult involvement at recess—not directing games, but participating, sharing out equipment, and helping to resolve arguments.

“While recess is often perceived as a break for students and teachers alike,” Massey said, “recess can also be an opportunity for teachers and students to interact in more informal settings, for teachers to model healthy behavior and appropriate social skills, and for students and teachers to develop stronger relationships.”

Photo: Shameela Dewage plays on the swings with her classmates during recess at a preschool in Mississippi. Source: Andrea Morales for Education Week.


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