Let Kids Play: Schools need to keep recess as part of the school day

Polis: Center for Politics
4 min readSep 25, 2023

Phoebe Ducote (PPS ‘25)

Phoebe Ducote (PPS ‘25)

Schools around the United States have deemed recess unnecessary and have removed the requirement to hold unrestricted playtime during the day. Recess is a vital time for kids to develop, engage in an environment that is not surrounded by four walls, desks, and chairs, and experience behaviors that are not taught in the classroom.

Schools should stop removing recess as part of the school day. Unrestricted play time, or recess, is defined as a break that allows children to have active free play outside of the classroom. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends that children should be provided with recess that lasts a minimum of 20 minutes. This is a valuable time for children’s development and growth, both physically and mentally. The issue that arises is that the majority of the schools in the U.S. have gotten rid of their requirement to provide recess as part of the school day, forcing kids to spend hours in the classroom with no breaks in instruction, therefore causing them to lower their attention span throughout the day, leading to adverse in-class behavior.

Recess provides students with an opportunity to develop social and emotional capabilities. During this time, students learn valuable skills that are not necessarily taught through a lecture: how to interact with others, problem-solve, and be independent. These are monumental milestones in a child’s development. Holding recess will allow the students to be able to develop more adequate skills that will lead them to have a more positive school experience.

Fundamentally, the decision to remove recess from the school day is caused due to switching towards longer periods of instructional time. What schools fail to acknowledge is that this does not help the students, but rather harms them; children need downtime to “process” what they have learned, be able to take a break, and therefore, return to the classroom feeling refreshed and more energized. Taking away recess will cause children to easily become more fatigued and disengage, which will negatively impact their academic performance and have the reverse effect of what educators are trying to accomplish by removing this essential aspect of the school day.

In the Convention on the Rights of a Child, adopted by the United Nations, Article 31 recognizes the “right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.” By allowing schools to remove the requirement to enforce playtime, the U.S. is failing to meet the obligations that are in place to help promote a child’s well-being while also depriving students of an essential component of their education.

The United States needs to begin prioritizing student education by providing adequate funding to continue to promote things such as recess. Budget cuts have led schools to reduce or eliminate recess as a way to save money by not having to pay for supervisors and equipment for the students. Funding would allow schools to hold recess by providing more money that is needed to hire additional staff, improve facilities, and purchase equipment. The school can also use more funding to send its teachers to attend professional development courses that will inform them of the benefits of recess, and how they can incorporate these unrestricted breaks into their teaching plans, thus motivating them to continue to hold breaks from instructional time. Holding staff development has been found to increase prosocial behaviors among elementary school children, making this the best solution and answer to the issue of why schools should enforce unrestricted playtime.

Strengthening district policies when it comes to recess can be an effective approach for altering current school practices and policies that pertain to the issue of withholding or removing recess from the school curriculum, while also ensuring that students have the opportunity to be actively engaged throughout the school day. School districts, departments of education, and school boards should begin to understand the importance of holding recess and how it can benefit both the child at an individual level, and also the school overall. The school district and school boards should develop policies and procedures that allow for a balance of instructional time and recess, including standardizing the time allotted for free time, roles and responsibilities of staff, as well as a budget breakdown that incorporates different aspects that will benefit the students.

Phoebe Ducote is from Ft.Lauderdale, FL and an Undergraduate at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. This piece was submitted as an op-ed in the Spring ’23 PUBPOL 301 course. This content does not represent the official or unofficial views of the Sanford School, Polis, Duke University, or any entity or individual other than the author.