Recess Helps Behavior, Cognitive Function, and SEL

When Will Schools Districts Listen to Researchers?

by J.D. Whitney, Learning Specialist

    Extensive research now exists showing that the impact of at least 30-45 minutes a day of quality recess time improves classroom self-control and executive function,* as well as improving mood and socialization skills. Yet somehow, in many states, vital recess time has been sacrificed with no awareness that it improves learning and behavior! P.E. does not have the same effect, say experts, because recess allows social time with friends, open choices, and unstructured relief time.

    According to the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), to date, only 12 states require a recommended amount of recess time by law. Even then, the U.S. is way behind the top countries in education in recognizing the neuroscience and psychological research in this area*. Currently, the states with required recess times are: Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Missouri, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Louisiana (only 15 minutes), Virginia, Washington (30 minutes). and West Virginia. The rest have “recommended” recess or listed it as “non-codified” which indicates it is not a priority.

    During remote teaching, weren’t we agreeing with experts about the importance of free friend time in order to boost mental health? Did the advocacy for more testing replace that realization?

    Some states that do require recess time now, still allow teachers to use the loss of recess as punishment for bad behavior. Other states recognize that this may just exacerbate poor behavior and do not allow it to be used as punishment when writing an apology letter might be more reflective.

Note: *Finland usually offers students a 45-minute learning time and then a 15-minute break pattern. Japanese students, get 10-to-20-minute breaks after every 45 minutes of instruction.

Resources: *William Massey, study author and an assistant professor in OSU's College of Public Health and Human Sciences. There was significant correlation between high-quality recess and higher scores in student resilience, self-control, adaptive classroom behaviors and executive function, Massey said.

William V. Massey, Janelle Thalken, Alexandra Szarabajko, Laura Neilson, John Geldhof. Recess Quality and Social and Behavioral Health in Elementary School Students. Journal of School Health, 2021; DOI: 10.1111/josh.13065

The CDC also endorses required recess.