Recess in School is Essential Playtime: The Importance of Parent Action
Dr. Cathy Ramstetter is a Health Educator with an interest child and school health, and currently serve as a School Health Consultant with Successful Healthy Children, the non-profit she founded in 2015. Cathy assists schools with wellness initiatives and recess implementation, with an aim to protect recess for every child everyday and to foster children’s healthy growth and development—intellectually, socially, emotionally and physically.
Since 2007, Dr. Ramstetter has served on the Ohio Chapter of the AAP’s Home and School Health Committee, and is the co-author of AAP’s Policy on Recess with Dr. Bob Murray. She serves on the Board of Directors for the American School Health Association and also the Board of DePaul Cristo Rey High School in Cincinnati, where she is a member of the Academic Committee. Cathy is an adjunct professor with The Christ College of Nursing & Health Sciences, teaching Wellness & Health Promotion.
In April, 2020, Dr. Ramstetter was a founding member of the Global Recess Alliance, formed of academic leaders from the US, Canada, United Kingdom and Australia, which guides schools to rethink policies and practices for recess time.
Dr. Charlene Woodham Brickman is an educational consultant and writer. As a career educator for 32 years, she has served in many roles including teacher, administrator and college adjunct instructor. Dr. Brickman recently completed her PhD in Early Childhood Education at Auburn University. She did so to earn a better seat at the table in order to advocate for young children more effectively.
A major focus of that advocacy is in the area of play, but more specifically, recess. In a time when our youngest students are expected to learn more and do so more quickly, recess is unfortunately often sacrificed. Dr. Brickman’s research centers on the necessity of recess as well as the beliefs and perceptions of site-based decision-makers regarding the practice of recess. Working to educate educators, parents, and the community about this daily non-negotiable unstructured break is her passion.
Currently, Dr. Brickman is involved in her community (Athens, GA) as a member of the Athens-Clarke County Library Board and a member of the Athens Technical College ECE Board. She is busy collaborating on writing projects and consulting (recessandplay.com). After that, she is on the lookout for play in life and is dragging her friends and family along in the quest. Afterall, we are never too old for recess and recess supports good mental health!
- Jump Ropes
- Large blocks
- Large, outdoor games
- Temporary, movable (ball) pit
- Permanent playground markings (four-square, hopscotch, murals)
As your child begins school, you become your child’s advocate for learning, and simultaneously, the teacher’s partner in your child’s growth. A part of your child's learning includes recess. Often in the early years of school, it is assumed children are experiencing a quality recess; sadly, this may not be the case.
According to research, a quality recess fosters improved memory, focused attention, and brain connections. When recess provides options for peer-engagement and play, students learn negotiation skills, can exercise leadership, and learn to resolve conflicts. By experiencing self-directed physical activities at recess, students are also more physically active both before and after school.
As parents, you are always your child’s #1 advocate for recess, getting involved by asking questions about recess, and supporting recess policy at the school level. While support schools in delivering recess – ask yourself - what exactly comprises a quality recess?
6 Elements of a Quality Recess
- Unstructured break
- Self-directed play
- Minimum 20 minutes daily, preferably more than once per day
- Preferably outside
- Safe surfaces
- Availability of apparatus/games/manipulatives
When combined, these attributes offer the potential for a continuum of open-ended opportunities, providing for a range of activities from group to individual; organized sports to sedentary; to creative and imaginative. Some of these elements may occur regardless of physical location, i.e., indoors due to inclement weather. But ideally, a quality recess would occur outside on safe surfaces.
We might picture a schoolyard or playground with play structures, such as swings, slides and climbing apparatus. However, not all schools or play spaces have these structures, and perhaps of more importance, they are not necessary to support a quality recess. What recess and unstructured play DOES need are a variety of options for play types, with some places inviting quiet activities, creative activities, solo or group activities. Therefore, these spaces may be barren of equipment and/or structures. Optimally, recess occurs in a natural/grassy area, mulch covered area, or an open field with items and spaces that encourage engagement.
Begin by visiting the playground--see for yourself what is already there, or not, and what you might recall as a child about recess. What is missing? What would you like to see available? Then, connect your experiences with your child’s perspectives/experiences. Listen and then perhaps share your favorite memories of recess. Ask your child what they might like to see at their recess.
Next, ask your child’s teacher what items might encourage more student engagement during recess. Jump ropes and kick balls may be the request for the classroom level; or it may be as simple as bubbles and sidewalk chalk. By supplying these types of items, the experience of recess will be enhanced. Consider a classroom recess bin or wagon to promote students’ responsibility for transportable items.
Work with the principal to outfit the physical space to invite curiosity and engagement for students. This, too, can be done incrementally, and in ways that do not break the bank! For example, paintings may be added to blacktop surfaces, e.g., hopscotch, maps, 4-square, mazes, alphabet, murals. While there are kits that can be purchased, you might work with your school’s parent-teacher organization and/or community partners to design and paint. Even students can participate in this process! If the investment in paint or the permanence of paint is not attractive, supplying sidewalk chalk offers students not only the opportunity for creativity but also the investment of their time and collaboration to make their own games.
Your advocacy in action can support a different recess experience for your child (and others), even while knowing a quality recess will be a work in progress. Taking action to move your school’s recess closer to the best possible recess can be accomplished by employing some of these tools towards a quality recess. By doing so, you will make a difference in the type of play experienced by the students. Yes, one small action can make that kind of difference.