The Global Recess Alliance was founded in early April 2020 at the start of the global pandemic. We are a group of scholars, health professionals and education leaders who speak publicly about the essential nature of recess for all children. The pandemic has underscored the need for children’s play. In response, we crafted this statement and created this website to help professionals, parents, and children navigate the ongoing shifting terrains of in-person, remote and hybrid learning for children and youth worldwide.
RETURNING TO SCHOOL: MAKE SURE CHILDREN HAVE DAILY TIME FOR RECESS 
Dr. Catherine Ramstetter, Successful Healthy Children, Cincinnati, OH. Lead author of American Academy of Pediatrics’ Policy on Recess.
Dr. Lauren McNamara, Ryerson University, Toronto. Author of Redesigning Recess for the 21st Century and lead author of PHE Canada’s national position statement on recess.
Dr. Rebecca London. UC Santa Cruz. Author of Rethinking Recess: Creating Safe and Inclusive Playtime for All Children in School
Dr. Ed Baines, UCL Institute of Education, London, UK. Co-author of School Break and Lunch Times and Young People’s Social Lives: A Follow-up National Study.
Dr. Anna Beresin, University of the Arts, Philadelphia. Author of Recess Battles: Playing, Fighting, and Storytelling.
Jennette Claassen, MSW, Research and Evaluation, Playworks, Oakland, CA, USA.
William Doyle, Fulbright Scholar, Finland and NY. Co-Author (with Pasi Sahlberg) “Let the Children Play.”
Dr. Brendon Hyndman, Charles Sturt University, Australia. Author of Contemporary School Playground Strategies for Healthy Students.
Dr. Olga Jarrett, Georgia State University, Atlanta. Author of A research-based case for recess: Position paper (2019).
Dr. William Massey, Oregon State University. Lead researcher on the Great Recess Framework.
Dr. Debbie Rhea, The LiiNK Project Director, Texas Christian University. Author of Wrong Turns, Right Moves in Education.
Dr. Claire LeBlanc, Associate Professor, Pediatrics, McGill University.
Dr. Peter Gray, Research Professor of Developmental Psychology at Boston College and author of Free to Learn: How Releasing the Instinct to Play Makes Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life.
Dr. Pasi Sahlberg, Gonski Institute for Education, University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia and Co-Author (with William Doyle) “Let the Children Play.”
Dr. Michael Hynes, Superintendent of Schools, NY, Author of Kids Need Play and Recess: Their Mental Health Depends on It.
Recess is the only unstructured time in the school day that provides space for children’s physical, social and emotional development, which are essential for well-being and learning. School recess is a crucial, scheduled time that children can rely on to freely discover, undertake play challenges, explore their senses and make independent play decisions away from the confines of classroom walls, restrictive rules, or routines and regulations.
Across the globe COVID-19 had impacts on every aspect of our lives. Not only did COVID-19 present public health challenges, there was (and still is) the uncertainty of the evolution of the virus. After a year-plus of school during the pandemic, children and adolescents will feel the effects of interrupted routines, family stress, boredom, loneliness, anxiety, and a lack of physically active social play and peer interaction. These experiences were diverse and uneven across time and among and within children and adolescents, both physically and emotionally: for some children, they thrived, others struggled, some experienced a little of both. Not only did these experiences vary between students, educators felt them as well.
For school leaders, there was the balance of providing continuity and safety for students while addressing the challenges of mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Most schools addressed these through changes in daily schedules, delivery of instruction, social distancing, mask wearing, intensifying cleaning, and providing barriers, both physical and portable between students. Teachers were burdened with a variety of new responsibilities from teaching completely virtually, to teaching in person, to doing both, all while facilitating their own children’s learning and coping with the upheaval of daily routines. There was a wide range of approaches from location to location. The result is that the experience of the last year was universally disruptive, and simultaneously individually felt, unique to place and person. To that end, we have revised our statement with an emphasis on returning to school.
Many children are attending school from homes with reduced or no backyards nor access to local parklands. Other children are living in built-up urbanized areas. When students and teachers reconvene in person at school, children will need dedicated time and space to heal from their collective trauma. Seeing their friends, playing, and being at recess adds normalcy to the school day and are important ways to heal. Yet educators might notice that some children may have forgotten how to interact with classmates in a school setting. We urge educational leaders and policymakers to prioritize recess in their schedules and take steps to ensure recess time is physically and emotionally safe, healthy, and beneficial for all children and adults.
IS RECESS NECESSARY? YES!
Decades of research indicate that rather than detracting from student learning, providing quality recess time supports learning and well-being. The American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents 67,000 children’s doctors, states: “Recess is a necessary break in the day for optimizing a child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development. In essence, recess should be considered a child’s personal time, and it should not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons.”
When students experience stress, it is difficult for them to access the aspects of the brain that allow for thinking and reasoning. Providing children with regular opportunities to play, socialize, rest, and re-energize is imperative. These opportunities improve mood, well-being, school engagement, behavior, learning, focus, attendance, and overall school climate. Without these opportunities, learning, school engagement, and mental health are severely compromised. This unprecedented moment in time is no exception.
However, all recesses are not created equal. Our collective research indicates that many schools do not have a history of quality recess experiences for their children. Some schools, especially those serving the most vulnerable children, have reduced or eliminated recess (including occasionally as a punishment). As well, some schools lack equipment, space, and supervision for recess, leading to exclusion, bullying, loneliness, and boredom. Given that for many children recess is the only time in their entire day that they have unstructured access to peers and spontaneous recreation, there is much more to do to secure their right to play and support them at this time.
BACK TO SCHOOL: MAKE SURE CHILDREN HAVE DAILY TIME FOR RECESS
A critical part of returning to school will be healing from collective trauma and focusing on mental, social, emotional and physical health. It is important, now more than ever—for both teachers and students—to ensure that they have the time and space in the school day to connect with others in activities that allow for meaningful and playful engagement.
As schools re-open, dedicated and sufficient recess scheduling must be included in the schoolwide planning, with a focus on creating an overall setting that is conducive to meaningful, inclusive interactions and healthy play. We have combined our expertise to provide answers and concrete strategies for providing quality recess time that not only works under the current circumstances but paves the way for a fundamental shift in the ways many schools approach recess. The objective is to ensure children’s well-being while safely returning to “normal.”
RETHINKING SCHOOL RECESS POLICIES
- Schedule sustained periods of recess for every child every day, at least twice per day, preferably more.
- Given the many physical, social and emotional benefits of recess, do not withhold recess as punishment for any reason (e.g. as a consequence for missed schoolwork or poor classroom or lunchroom behavior).
- Count recess as instructional minutes so that every student can have recess time every day.
- Hold recess outdoors whenever possible.
- Make use of the available indoor and outdoor spaces to provide a range of activity options and consider staggering schedules to decrease playground density.
- Provide dedicated break times for teachers regardless of whether they monitor their own students at recess.
- Involve children in the planning and organizing of recess time, including discussion about activities, inclusion, social harm, equipment management, fair play, and importantly handwashing.
SAFE RECESS PRACTICES
- Ensure there is adequate equipment and space for all students at recess.
- Offer a variety of outside spaces where free choice of different activities can take place, including quiet, creative, and solo activity spaces.
- Designate activity areas—such as skipping, chalking, creative, free play, dancing or sports—and allow children to choose where to play and to explore. Designated areas will help organize the space, reduce anxiety, and reduce density at any one activity.
- Provide leadership opportunities for students to help support each other and maintain the equipment.
- Recognize the importance of physically active play and consider a risk-benefit approach; strict rules like ‘no running’ and ‘no ball throwing’ can undermine the benefits of play and physical activity.
- Add handwashing stations to be used before, during and after each recess and model their use.
SUPPORTING A SAFE AND HEALTHY RECESS
- Some children may experience a newfound shyness around play. Others may find crowded play areas overstimulating. Much like adults who adjust awkwardly to social conversations as communities reopen, some children may need time to adjust to the playground. All of the evidence surrounding play and times of trauma indicates that children who feel safe will reengage with play, if offered the opportunity. Children may be rusty on social and interactive skills within the school environment. Reminders about school core values and rules will help students to reintegrate.
- Advise recess staff so they are prepared to support students who have just experienced a major life disruption. Students may be more energetic, aggressive, or withdrawn, and they may have less capacity to self-regulate, resolve their own conflicts, or figure out how to play together.
- Some students will need help getting connected. Adults should be prepared to support healthy and inclusive play that attends to the needs of all children.
- Have a list of inclusive games handy, including those that need no equipment.
- Structured or sedentary activities—like watching movies or activity break videos that do not provide students free choice and peer interactions—are not substitutes for recess.
We must continue to ensure—now and in the future—that all children have access to recess, and feel safe and included during that time in the school day.
School leaders should weigh these recommendations in concert with local health officials’ advice about COVID-19 (or other health crises) and threats to public health and healthcare system capacity: Recess should be considered a public health issue for every child.
Ramstetter, C., McNamara, L., London, R., Baines, E., Beresin, A., Claassen, J., Doyle, W., Hyndman, B., Jarrett, O., Massey, W., Rhea, D. (2021). Returning to school: Make sure children have time for daily recess. Global Recess Alliance.
©Global Recess Alliance
 What is referred to as “recess” by the American Academy of Pediatrics is often called “break time” or similar names in other countries. In this statement, we use “recess” as an inclusive term for meaningful, self-directed, recreational play, for all school-age children, through adolescence.