Recess in School is Essential Playtime: The Importance of Parent Advocacy
by Catherine Ramstetter View Bio and Charlene Woodham Brickman View Bio
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!
Research shows that when children have recess, they gain the following benefits:
- Are less fidgety and more on task
- Have improved memory and more focused attention
- Develop more brain connections
- Learn negotiation skills
- Exercise leadership, teach games, take turns, and learn to resolve conflicts
- Are more physically active before and after school
“It is the supreme seriousness of play that gives it its educational importance. Play seen from the inside, as the child sees it, is the most serious thing in life. Play builds the child.... play is thus the essential part of education.” Joseph Lee Play and Education (1910)
Play is essential to a child’s growth and learning, and recess offers the prime setting for children to experience play during the school day. Research demonstrates the many benefits of recess in supporting kids academically, physically, and socially both in and out of the classroom.
Many schools have unfortunately bowed to the pressures of learning loss and standardized test achievements and have eliminated or shortened recess. For schools that do still provide the unstructured break, students may still be required to miss all or part of it to complete assignments or as punishment for negative behavioral choices.
That’s why, parents, it’s important to advocate for recess for your children and all the students in their school. Start by talking to your school representatives about their recess policies and practices.
Recess is often overlooked -- perhaps due to an assumption that a quality recess is occurring and that it looks the same from class to class, or that recess is not essential. But educators overwhelmingly agree; recess is valuable for all children and the assumption that recess is consistently delivered and experienced is untrue.
Similarly, when you ask your child about their school day - don’t forget to ask about recess. Below are some questions to help start the conversation:
- Do you have recess?
How long is recess?
What happens at recess?
Tell me about the playground?
What kind of equipment do you have?
Are you able to use the equipment?
Do you have balls, jump ropes, etc.?
How do you play?
Are you able to choose what and where you play?
Do all children get to participate?
Does your class ever miss recess? Why?
Be sure to follow up with your child’s teacher. Ask them the same questions. See what teachers say about what occurs in this (hopefully) daily scheduled event. Ask them how much time is scheduled for students at recess and does that scheduled time include travel to and from the playground? Inquire if it is a structured or unstructured playtime. Ask if punitive measures are allowed such as requiring students to walk laps during recess as a behavioral consequence.
Feel free to ask the principal and assistant principal the same questions. These types of questions may seem insignificant, but they demonstrate that you are observant and want the best for your children. They show that you are uniquely invested.
If you receive differing answers from your children or their teachers, your school may be missing their opportunity to provide this essential component of education to your child. If so, then it’s your time to speak up! Ask to see the school wellness policy -- does it include recess?
Volunteer to be a part of the school wellness team to be a part of the process to ensure all students are experiencing a daily quality recess.
Published guidelines recommend that every child be given a minimum of 20 minutes of unstructured recess daily (Murray & Ramstetter, 2013). Make sure that your child receives the right amount of recess time every day.