May 05, 2022

Making a Case for School Recess

There’s a concerning trend in the United States targeting every young student’s favorite thing–school recess. In 2007, 20 percent of schools reduced their recess time. Since then, the percentage of schools doing the same has increased every year. While it’s difficult to pinpoint a single reason schools cut down recess, a rapid decrease began when the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was passed. This law leveraged federal funding to push public schools to improve standardized test scores. Many teachers felt pressured to dedicate more time to test preparation.

Another dip in recess time began when the Common Core State Standards were introduced. Like NCLB, if students didn’t perform well on standardized tests, their school might risk losing state funding. 

What’s one of the most common ways schools found time for test preparation? You guessed it. Reduce recess time.

Recess is not only “playtime.” While learning subjects like reading, math, and science in school is essential, academic success and recess are not mutually exclusive. There is growing evidence that recess and physical activity contribute to improved grades and test scores. Keep reading to learn more about school playgrounds and their impact on academic success.

Active Students and Cognitive Function

Giving children an opportunity to go outside can help with their cognitive function. Sunlight triggers the brain to release serotonin, which improves students' mood and focus. When children are happy and focused, they are more likely to retain information and perform well on exams. School playgrounds also provide children with a brain break to destress from the school day.

When children take a break and digest the information they’ve learned, they are more likely to engage in their studies when they return to the classroom.

Recess Helps Improve Test Scores

According to the research found in the PlayOn! Curriculum from PlayCore and SHAPE America, students who are more active during the day are 20% more likely to earn an A in math or English. So what better way to prepare children for life than to increase their math AND English skills? 


Increased physical activity throughout the school day and your campus helps increase standardized test scores by 6% over 3 years. That's a huge difference!

Valuable Life Lessons

While school can provide lessons in many subjects, soft skills are not always among them. Children can learn essential soft skills such as sociability, teamwork, leadership, and conflict resolution on the school playground. While knowing your multiplication tables is necessary, learning to work with people your age and sort out minor disputes are also important life lessons. 

Active schools also tend to have fewer incidents of bullying.

On Your Best Behavior

Playing outside on the school playground helps prevent behavioral issues inside the classroom. When children sit for eight hours a day, it’s only a matter of time before a couple of them start pushing the envelope to look for something fun to do. Letting children engage in unstructured play lets them burn off energy and assume their best behavior.

Recess is also essential for neurodivergent children in the classroom. This group of children needs time to move around, retreat from excess stimulation, and focus their attention on new things. Returning to class after recess often puts students in a better position to pay attention and succeed.

Recess is Essential for School Success

School playgrounds aren’t only fun and games–they help children perform better in school. When children participate in unstructured playtime, they can burn off energy and pay attention more in the classroom. This helps improve grades and behavior and allows children to learn soft skills such as teamwork and leadership.

If you need help planning how a school playground that helps student succeed in the classroom, contact a GameTime representative today to get started.

categories Schools