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School District 65 Needs a Recess Policy

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It is time for the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 to create a district-wide recess policy. Frequently, in District 65, recess is taken away as a consequence for student misbehavior, or students are required to use recess time to complete work.

Educators and education administrators must view recess as a valuable and essential learning time for children.  Research has proven what we’ve known for years: children NEED recess to develop social skills, hone problem-solving skills, explore their own ideas, re-charge their minds after periods of structured activity, and simply exercise. 

Furthermore, research has shown that adequate recess time actually improves student behavior and academic goals.  Children who have recess are better able to manage their behavior and focus on learning in the classroom, which especially helps those students who need recess the most and are the most likely to have it taken away.

While school systems do not always move as nimbly and swiftly as we would like, there are ways to make small meaningful changes that really do have an impact on student success.  Creating a recess policy and properly implementing it for the 2016-17 school year is one of those changes that we should all be able to agree is worth acting upon. Given District 65’s strategic plan-related focus on school climate, social-emotional learning (SEL), and the whole child, recess should be viewed as an SEL investment opportunity.

I am asking the District 65 School Board and District 65 Administration to please take immediate action to ensure that every Evanston elementary and middle school child has access to adequate recess.


Research funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in partnership with the National Association of Elementary School Principals found that: 

·       Four out of five principals report that recess has a positive impact on academic achievement.

·       Two-thirds of principals report that students listen better after recess and are more focused in class.

·       Virtually all believe that recess has a positive impact on children’s social development (96 percent) and general well being (97 percent).

The report also found that recess offers students one of their few opportunities during the school day to interact and develop social skills, such as negotiating and cooperating, with minimal adult interference.

The American Academy of Pediatrics asserts that: “Recess serves as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom. But equally important is the fact that safe and well-supervised recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits that may not be fully appreciated when a decision is made to diminish it. Recess is unique from, and a complement to, physical education—not a substitute for it. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.

The Journal of School Health echoes pediatricians’ sentiments: “Recess serves a critical role in school as a necessary break from the rigors of academic challenges. Unstructured recess and free play provides a unique contribution to a child's creative, social, and emotional development. From the perspective of children's health and well-being, recess time should be considered a child's personal time and should not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons.


The Chicago Public Schools Policy Manual, Local School Wellness Policy for Students, Section 704.7, Subsection G. Recess states: “All elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools with elementary grades, shall provide elementary students (K-8) with a daily opportunity for recess. Recess is a non-instructional activity and shall occur during non-instructional time. Recess shall be at least 20 minutes in length per day. Recess, which provides students with a break from instruction and time to engage in play with peers, shall include physical activity and/or activities that promote social skill development. It is recommended that schools schedule recess prior to students’ lunch period. Schools shall implement recess in accordance with CPS Student Wellness Guidelines.

It further states under Subsection H. Food and Physical Activity as Rewards or Punishment: “Teachers and other school personnel shall not use physical activity (e.g., running laps, push-ups as a punishment) or withhold opportunities for physical activity (e.g., withholding recess, physical education) as punishment.” and “Teachers and other school personnel are encouraged to use physical activity opportunities as rewards such as extra recess, special classroom privileges etc.”

Miami-Dade County’s policy reads: “Recess should not be viewed as a reward, but a necessary educational support component for all children.  Students should not be denied recess as a punishment or to make up work.

Berkeley Unified School District has adopted recess restriction policies stating: “The Board recognizes the value of recess and play. It improves students’ ability to focus and it helps students cognitively process information they are learning. Recess also plays an important part in the social and emotional development of children, enabling them to engage in peer interactions and develop their social skills. Recess time is also a unique and important opportunity for teachers to work closely with students in a way that is difficult to obtain in other parts of the school day.” Berkeley does not strictly prohibit using recess as a punishment but has specific guidelines and conditions for when it can be used.

North Carolina’s State Board of Education has adopted a statewide policy stating “recess shall not be taken away from students as a form of punishment.


One argument that has been presented for not having a recess policy is that it gives teachers no options to give consequences for bad behavior. Yet, teachers and school districts that believe that recess leads to students being better prepared to learn have gotten more creative with consequences.  And better yet, they get creative with ways to prevent behavior issues that lead to needing disciplinary action in the first place.

Peaceful Playgrounds, a California nonprofit, created a handout: 60 Alternatives to Withholding Recess, offering ways to incent good behavior and alternative punishments such as letter writing or having students sit away from the group to do class work and have them “earn” their way back into the group activities. Other options include being assigned to classroom clean up or being assigned extra homework.

The nonprofit Playworks lists this as an alternative: “have a disciplined student become an incentive helper. For example, if a student is not practicing safe tagging, that student then becomes the safe tag spotter and gives high fives to students who are practicing safe tagging. This provides a leadership opportunity and allows the student to show that they recognize what safe tagging looks like.


1. It’s time for education policymakers at all levels to take play seriously. Between clinical evidence and the direct input of our nation’s principals, the benefits of recess are well documented. Recess should no longer be treated as an afterthought or an expendable block of time. Instead, it must be recognized as an essential part of the school day. In addition, schools should end the practice of taking recess away as punishment.

2. Schools should enhance recess to improve learning and school climate. For all of its contributions to learning, recess is the single biggest source of student disciplinary problems. The good news is that schools could eliminate most of their behavioral headaches if they simply managed their recess more effectively.

3. The single best way to improve recess is to improve the way it is staffed. Principals want more and better trained staff on the playground at recess. Because of today’s economic realities, many schools may not have the luxury of adding additional staff to recess. That makes it all the more important to ensure that adults on the playground at recess have the training necessary to manage it effectively. With limited and cost-effective training, schools could use existing staff to manage recess with even better results.


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