Recess is as vital as Lunch

Taking away recess is the same as taking away lunch = bad for learning, health and education.

Taking away recess is the same as taking away lunch = bad for kids and learning.

What if you heard a teacher say: “Your assignment is late. You can’t eat lunch today.”

Preposterous, we say. Lunch is essential for giving kids energy. It boosts brain power, helps focus and concentration, and gives kids a social break. So does recess.

More than 30% of U.S. schools have little or no recess. For schools with scheduled recess time, teachers commonly hold recess over kids’ heads as a disciplinary threat. Restless behavior? No recess. Late homework? No recess. Missing parent signature on reading log? No recess. Didn’t finish a class assignment on time? Stay in for recess to finish it.

Recess should never be taken away for any reason. Recess is as essential as lunch.

Cognitive work (school work) takes enormous amounts of concentration and mental energy. Recess restores it. Simply looking at academics, recess is vital to improve memory, learning, concentration, creativity, problem-solving and other executive functions. Recess also refreshes the spirit, it improves children’s attitude toward school, and gives them an emotional and social break. It’s a chance to see friends and do your own thing. Recess is break from being told what to do all day.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says in its 2013 policy report that “recess is a crucial and necessary component of child’s development and…should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.”

Like other forms of corporal punishment, depriving kids of recess is a misguided practice that has to go. Yes, recess deprivation is corporal punishment. “Corporal” = of or relating to the body, and “corporal punishment” includes physical imprisonment.

Can teachers manage without this particular management tool? I have confidence they can. Teachers once thought they couldn’t manage their classes without swatting kids with wooden boards. Bad practices seem convenient at the time, but they have no place in quality education.

Taking away recess – whether by schedule or as punishment – deprives kids of the chance to learn at the best of their abilities.

Besides, those restless kids? Their bodies are telling us a simple message: we need recess the most.

Find out if your child’s school has a protection policy about withholding recess. If not, try addressing the issue with the classroom teacher with a preventative note:

Dear [teacher’s name],

We feel strongly that recess is an essential part of the school day for optimal learning. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that no child should be deprived of recess time for any reason (behavior, missing classwork or any other). If you need to discipline [child’s name], please do so in a way that does not compromise recess. We’re happy to discuss this more with you at any time that’s convenient. We’d like to do whatever we can to support you in the classroom.  Thank you for all you do for the students.

Sincerely,  [your name]

Need help? Get a copy of It’s OK to Go Up the Slide, which dives into recess and other vital topics for happy kids.

Has your child ever been deprived of recess? What was the cause? What other methods work well for educators?

UpTheSlide final coverHeather Shumaker is the author of It’s OK to Go Up the Slide. THE book for hot topics like recess, recess advocacy and homework. If your school or child needs recess help, get a copy of It’s OK to Go Up the Slide.




It's OK small coverHeather Shumaker is also the author of It’s OK Not to Share.

Essential reading for anyone with preschool-aged children who have big emotions, creative ideas and active energy.

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8 Responses to Recess is as vital as Lunch

  1. deidra says:

    My son’s old school withheld recess for kids who did not complete their work. When I complained and said it was a punishment, the principal wrote back and said it was a consequence and not a punishment. It happened to other kids in his class and other kids at the school. I am really not sure how she was able to get away with it, because the NYC DOE Wellness Department had a policy prohibiting the use of physical as a punishment or reward and a policy against withholding recess as punishment.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Wow – a school violating its own policy about not withholding recess. A true educational and cultural gap there. Glad he’s at a new school!

      • deidra says:

        We are very happy too. His day is a little longer, but the trade off is 30-45 minutes for lunch and 45 minutes for recess. A much less hectic and more humane lunch/recess period.

  2. Jaime Havard says:

    The school my son attended was usually the #1 school in our state and they stopped having recess for classes 3rd grade and up a few years ago. For years I thought the principal just wanted to keep that top position and I blamed her. When I started investigating Common Core and related testing issues I realized it was not the ranking…. it was the growth. They are under an incredible amount of pressure to continue to grow even though the scores are already knocking on the ceiling. Testing begins in 3rd grade so a regular recess period vanishes – to squeeze those last percentage points out of successful students. There is no finish line in the “Race To the Top”.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Third grade is far too young, as you know. My next book is compiling research that shows academic performance and even test scores tend to go UP when kids have recess. Sometimes school officials will be swayed by the logic of the data.

      Perpetual growth is impossible to maintain no matter what you are measuring, especially humans.

  3. Tammy Alcorn says:

    I am a mom that has a 9 year old with high functioning autism and ADHD. He is constantly in at recess time for not finishing his assignment he was working on before the recess time. The teachers ar see always using recess as a disipline and punihment for him. I have finally reauezted to the teachers to please use another method of discipline ecause my son needs recess to ge out his full energy. I beleive parents need to help their children and stand up for them.

  4. Thank you for bringing up this issue, this is a very helpful article. Everyone needs a break, may it be adults or kids. How unjust it is! Omitting recess as punishments. Doesn’t the teachers also took their breaks?… so why denying to students.