Why Recess is Still Important for Students

Jon Julius
Jon Julius
K-12 Superintendent of Schools; Ph.D. in Education Administration
Young students playing jump rope outside together.

Recess has been a longstanding tradition in most schools. School children all over the country still participate for various reasons. Some may think recess is unnecessary and counterproductive for student learning outcomes. However, there are many reasons why recess has been a part of the education system and why it is still a widely accepted practice.


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an abundance of safety protocols that school leaders have had to implement. It has been a challenge for schools to successfully keep students healthy while educating them in person. During the pandemic, recess has been an outlet for students and staff alike. Wearing a face covering throughout the school year all day, every day, has been burdensome, so having the ability to go outside has been a refuge in many ways. Not only are students and staff able to take their face coverings off outside, they are also able to get fresh, circulated air that the indoors do not always readily provide. In terms of safety from COVID-19, being outdoors is also a more desirable place to be.


We all know that young people are generally more active than those that are past school age. It is imperative that they have an outlet to expend that excess energy. We also know that those students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) desperately need recess time to decompress. They tend to do better in school when they have these small breaks from their school work.

That really goes for all students. They will find more success in their studies if they are given periodic breaks from the structured school day. After all, they are just kids. Physical education class is an important time for students to learn social skills in a relatively organized setting, especially when spending all day in a structured environment.

However, PE class can still be regarded as too structured and thought of in a negative way with some students since it offers little autonomy. Recess is a great supplement as it encourages students to be active in their own creative way. It gives them a break from a formal class and offers a time for them to interact physically with others, along with a complete break from a regular classroom setting.

Childhood obesity is also an increasing problem, so recess is a welcomed way to help curb this issue, according to the American Heart Association. Everyone needs exercise, but especially kids since they can develop activity habits early on that can stick with them into their adult years.

In the current school year, it has been especially important for students to get outside for recess. Early on in the pandemic, it was proven that outside surfaces contained fewer contaminants than indoor surfaces due to the sun being a major factor for eradicating COVID germs. For this reason, it was better for students to be outside than inside from a health perspective.

Physical health is important and outdoors is a much easier place to implement exercise regimens. Not only has outdoor recess been good for physical health in terms of getting the recommended daily amount of exercise, but it has also been beneficial for mental health. The two can go hand in hand, but during the past year of dealing with COVID-19, mental health has been a particular point of interest.

Because of the already high risk of suicide among students, it continues to be vital for students to interact with one another, be active, get some sunshine, and do things they enjoy. Many of their typical day-to-day activities have been cancelled, so they need things like recess to find enjoyment and fulfillment in physical things that they love. Recess could arguably be contributing to reduced levels of suicide.


Regardless of whether recess is inside or outside, it has major benefits to increasing social activity and engagement among students in the classroom. Many students’ best memories from school are a result of recess time when they were playing with their friends. There is more to school than just learning. It is a place for self-improvement. Recess provides an environment for improving social skills for kids.

Social interaction with classmates at recess can play a big part in social development among students that can benefit them later in life when it comes time to getting and keeping a job, attending social events, or successfully navigating situations that involve other people. At young ages, many students may lack access to these vital social interactions. Having recess time can give students a much needed break in their day, increase their focus, and boost their confidence levels.

Academic Advantages

Since health issues can become a distraction to achievement, healthier people tend to do better in every aspect of their lives. This is no exception for students. It’s important for them to be active to maintain a healthy weight, improve their mental health, and to be socially competent. All of these things will benefit them when it comes to academics. Studies suggest that having recess results in better classroom behavior among students. This can correlate into better attention and effort given in class and will result in better learning outcomes. Also, physical activity has been proven to improve oxygen delivery to the brain, resulting in optimal brain performance in children.

Although some may think recess is a waste of time, the proven benefits of recess can quickly debunk this belief. When considering the implications of the current pandemic, recess has been a great thing for many reasons. While there are many reasons why recess can be good for students, there are also benefits for teachers as well. Recess time can provide them with a break from students, time to plan, and the likelihood of handling fewer disciplinary incidents when students return to class. They can also expect better test scores from their students. With all these considerations in mind, recess is something that is here to stay.

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