Recess Improves Student Learning, Principals Say

By Erik W. Robelen — February 04, 2010 2 min read
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We all know that children—most of them—anyway, love recess. It was probably my favorite “subject” in elementary school, and my heart raced when I heard the bell go off and we were free to hit the playground. But what’s being billed as the “first ever” national poll of elementary school principals on the subject finds that most of them believe recess helps children learn.

Four out of five principals report that recess has a positive impact on academic achievement, with two-thirds saying students listen better after recess and are more focused in class. Virtually all of the nearly 2,000 administrators surveyed (which also included some assistant or vice principals) believe that recess has a positive effect on children’s social development.

The poll was conducted in October by the Gallup Organization. It was sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the nonprofit Playworks.

Of course, in today’s world, there’s increased pressure to move beyond impressions of improved learning to more concrete evidence (as in, on standardized tests). The report about the poll highlights a 2009 study published in Pediatrics as shedding more light on the matter. But that study doesn’t draw any conclusions on academic performance. It does find that teacher ratings of classroom behavior (among 8- and 9-year-old students) were higher for those groups of children who had 15 minutes of recess each day. One could certainly argue that kids have to pay attention in order to learn anything. So if they’re behaving better, they’re more likely to be paying more attention.

Not content to stop there, I decided to take the matter one step further. The Pediatrics article, by Romina Barros, a professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, does reference a few other studies, including an overview of research on recess from 2002 that was funded by the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education. This report, “Recess in Elementary School: What Does the Research Say?” seemed cautious in its findings.

It says, “The available research suggests that recess can play an important role in learning, social development, and health of elementary school children. While there are arguments against recess, no research clearly supports not having recess.”

“However,” the report then continues, and you know where this is going, “more research is needed to determine the current percentage of schools that have abolished recess and assess the effect of no-recess policies on student test scores, attitudes, and behaviors.”

So, know of other studies to illuminate this issue? Post a comment.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.