Natalie Digate Muth by Natalie Digate Muth

Two Leading Forces in Making the School Day More Active

Playworks is a non-profit organization spreading throughout low-income schools across the country. Playworks offers up coaches, lots of equipment and enthusiasm to help children make the most of recess. It is a structured recess program that brings in trained college-grad coaches to help lead a variety of games and sports and teach students interpersonal skills such as group management, violence prevention and conflict resolution. Find more info at

JamminMinute brings physical activity into the classroom with FREE and easy-to-implement physical activity breaks throughout the day. The rapidly expanding program reaches 9 million students in 17% of all schools in the United States and continues to grow. For more information, check out

Earlier this month, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the leading voice of pediatricians in the United States, published a policy statement titled "The Crucial Role of Recess in School." Given the near absence of recess in many schools (only three states—Delaware, Virginia and Nebraska—have 20 minutes of mandatory recess per day in elementary schools and 39 states have no recess rules), the report gained widespread media attention. But this is not new—in 2007 the AAP published a similar report (Ginsberg, 2007) highlighting the important role of play in every child's life and the how recess provides that important outlet. With the preponderance of evidence suggesting that recess not only provides much-needed activity benefits for kids, but also improves a child's concentration, behavior, academic performance and social skills, the lingering question is "Will schools take action?"

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines recess as "regularly scheduled periods within the elementary school day for unstructured physical activity and play." While unstructured play is best, some schools have adopted a more structured form of recess to ensure that children get some level of moderate-to-vigorous activity. The AAP prefers unstructured recess, but also sees the value in, and encourages, structured recess. The report emphasizes, however, that recess should not replace physical education. Unfortunately, that seems to be the case in many states—those states that meet recess guidelines are less likely to meet physical education recommendations.

One of the major reasons that physical education and recess have been on the chopping block is to make time for more "academic" subjects, despite the fact that a growing body of evidence suggests that kids who get recess breaks and those who are physically active do better in school. Kids from lower income and urban communities—kids who arguably need these activity breaks the most due to higher rates of overweight and obesity, as well as higher prevalence of concentration problems—are the one's least likely to be afforded any recess time.

So what to do about it? The AAP concluded with the following recommendations to schools:

  • Recess is a child's personal time and should not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons.
  • Academic success depends on regular breaks for both children and adolescents. These breaks should be built into the school day.
  • Recess should complement and NOT replace physical education.
  • Recess can help contribute to the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day.
  • Recess should be safe and well supervised. Recess should not be banned for safety concerns, but rather efforts should be made to optimize safety (such as well-maintained equipment and well-trained supervisors).
  • Lifelong social skills—communication, negotiation, cooperation, sharing, problem solving and coping—are developed during recess. These are fundamental skills children should develop at school.

Several questions remain to be answered: Will schools receive the support and resources they need, and will policy makers have the will to act, to ensure opportunities for recess and activity breaks for our kids?


Ginsburg, K.R. (2007). American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Communications; American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics, 119, 1, 182-191. (

Ramstetter, C. and Murray, R. (2013). American Academy of Pediatrics Council on School Health. The crucial role of recess in schools. Pediatrics, 131, 1, 183-188.

Sand, S.J. et al. (2012). The impact of state laws and district policies on physical education and recess practices in a nationally representative sample of U.S. public elementary schools. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 166, 4, 311-316.

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