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Movement Experiences for Children
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
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Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion


When used in the context of education and children, recess is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “a short period of time during the school day when children can play” (Merriam-Webster, 2015). Recess breaks may be given more than once per day depending on the school age of a child. It is typical for younger children to have more breaks in a day than older children. These breaks may consist of an eating portion as well as an outside activity portion or take place in separate breaks independent of each other. These recess breaks allow child interaction with peers, physical activity and leisure time. Playground equipment may be used in accordance with school rules during outdoor activity time. A signal, typically a bell, will indicate the end of the recess break, signalling the children to return to their classrooms.


The history of recess extends back to 30,000 B.C.E “where play becomes a natural part of survival training” (Carlisle, 2009). Traditional forms of recess play took shape in the form of colouring, plays, reading and games involving props and physical activity (Carlisle, 2009). Today recess play is engaged with through outdoor activity with peers in both structured and unstructured games. Timothy Dwight, later the president of Yale University is recognized as one of the earliest advocates of recess in terms of non-instructional activity during the 1790’s. Amos Bronson Alcott followed in the footsteps of Dwight by allotting specific time for play during outdoor time at school. G. Stanley Hall later advanced play in the 20th century by advocating for the use materials and equipment, equal to a child’s level of development, during play.

Recess Equipment and Games

Equipment used during recess has drastically changed over the years with evolving technologies. Examples of toys and games during the 1950-2000 periods include:
• Hula Hoop
• Balls
• Hopscotch
• Skipping rope
• Four Square

Examples of toys and games during the 2000-2015 periods include:
• Balls
• Cards
• Skipping Rope
• Four square
• Cell phones

Based on the above lists there is some overlap in the toys used and games played however the development of technology and upgrades in safety standards have reduced the level of interaction with some toys on the play ground. Providing equipment not only encourages play but increases the physical activity of the children exposed to the equipment. During both morning and lunch hour break periods the group of children exposed to equipment increased both their moderate and vigorous activity from 38-50% while the control groups (not exposed to play ground equipment) declined in their physical activity by as much as 7% (Verstraete et. al., 2006). Some schools did have the funds to build playground structures that included swings, slides and climbing platforms. Older wooden or painted metal playground structures have been replaces and are more commonly made out of plastic or coloured fibers. Much of the older equipment was deemed dangerous and replaced with a newer, safer version. Some structures, such as see-saws (or teeter-totters) have been completely removed from modern playgrounds due to the potential hazards and liability issues (Carlisle, 2009). Schools and communities have extremely high safety standards, so playgrounds are carefully designed to encourage play while reducing possible dangers. Even the ground surface material is carefully chosen to promote activity while maintaining a safe environment. Grass, rubber, concrete, sand, and wood chips are often used in different areas around a playground (Carlisle, 2009). Children often make use of the natural, surrounding environment to incorporate into their recess activities. Sticks, stones, water and bushes are often integrated into games such as fort-building, hide-and-go-seek, or tag (Carlisle, 2009). School children often play games that they were taught through their physical education class. Games and activities played often mirrors the culture of the surrounding area. Schools commonly have equipment available for the kids to use such as balls, Frisbees, Hula Hoops and skipping rope. Balls were one of the first recreation equipment found on American playgrounds and still remain to be one of the most popular (Carlisle, 2009). Common varieties include baseballs, handballs, footballs, volleyballs, and basketballs. In some cases, extra equipment such as basketball hoops, volleyball nets, and soccer nets are useful, however often the children are able to improvise using their surrounding environment (Carlisle, 2009). Depending on the rules of the school, recess is often held in a gymnasium or a classroom if weather on a particular day is not permitting of outside play. Although recess in the classroom does not facilitate the same activity level as the outdoors, indoor games and puzzles are still a welcomed break in their academic day.

Benefits of Recess

The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics published an article stating that recess is crucial for the cognitive, social, emotional and physical development of children. The article strongly discourages the shortening or removal of recess from a child’s schedule, and they advocate that recess is crucial and necessary for the healthy development of a child.

Social and Emotional

Children are able to teach each other games and rules, practice their leadership skills, learn how to listen and follow, negotiate and resolve conflicts, and collaborate with other students (Murray & Ramstetter, 2012). Recess can be a creative outlet for them to image new games and manipulate the rules of their current favorite games. Children are also able to learn the importance of rules while developing their own sense of fairness, and right and wrong. In society, these are some of the most important lessons for people to learn, and many of them are taught on the playground while interacting with peers (Murray & Ramstetter, 2012). Children also learn to problem solve during recess along with skills such as coping, perseverance, and self-control (Murray & Ramstetter, 2012). All of these skills are crucial, lifelong personal skills.


Many researchers have stated and proven that physical activity is not only a benefit but a need for a child to acquire social maturity, physical well-being, including the development of fundamental motor skills such as running, jumping, leaping, skipping and hopping, as well as academic understanding (Murray & Ramstetter, 2012). Recess provides an opportunity for children to expend energy through physical activity that cannot be spent in the same way doing an academic task. The increasing rate of child obesity is also tackled. “Even minor movement during recess counterbalances sedentary time at school and at home and helps the child achieve the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day” (Murray & Ramstetter, 2012). Depending on the activities that each child chooses, they also have the opportunity to develop their balance, flexibility, agility, coordination and strength. It is noted that not all children choose to be physically active during their recess break, but the opportunity to participate in the activity of their choice in order to develop their motor skills is crucial (Murray & Ramstetter, 2012).


”Children develop intellectual constructs and cognitive understanding through interactive, manipulative experiences” (Murray & Ramstetter, 2012). In order for children to experience cognitive processing at an optimal level they much have periods of interruption after periods of concentrated and structured learning and instruction (Murray & Ramstetter, 2012). Attention and focus that is required in a classroom setting is both demanding and exhausting for a child over long periods of time. Rest time for a brain is when it is able to refresh the chemicals that are required for long-term memory storage. Studies have shown that students are more attentive and less fidgety after their recess break (Jarrett et. al., 1998). Many children also learn more effectively through interactive, hands-on experience. The exploratory nature of recess provides many opportunities for children to learn in less structured but more social environment than the classroom can offer.

Timing of Recess

Recess breaks are typically 15 – 30 minutes. The scheduling of recess varies greatly depending on the school and the international location (Carlisle, 2009). In Turkey, students have 15 minutes of break for every hour that they are at school (Carlisle, 2009). English schools usually have 3 recess breaks per day which includes a lengthy lunch break. In Taiwan, there are numerous breaks throughout the day, and each break has 5 – 6 minutes added on as a time for students to transition back into academic mode (Carlisle, 2009). American recess varies greatly depending on the school. Some schools have no recess at all, or one recess break in the morning, twice a day, sometimes it is scheduled just before dismissal at the end of the day, after lunch, or before lunch (Carlisle, 2009). Select schools choose to have recess on days where the students do not have a scheduled gym class. This is more common in locations where it is still a question if children need both physical education class and recess in their day.

Adult Supervision During Recess

Schools allocate certain adults to supervise the students during the break time. Often these adults are school teachers potentially with the assistance of volunteer students. In some cases, a specialist who can help initiate social interactions and games may be hired to help supervise (Carlisle, 2009). The main job of the supervising adult is to keep the children safe. However, the supervising figure can also be a help socially and emotionally to children during recess, as they are able to step in during cases of social exclusion or bullying (Carlisle, 2009). Supervisors may also help the students work through conflicts and other social issues. Many schools also employ the use of older students to be peer monitors.

Physical Education and Recess

Questions have been raised as to whether students require both physical education classes along with a recess break. It has been recommended that schools allow time for both in a child’s day, because the two offer different opportunities for the children. The differences noted between a physical education class and recess also include the participation levels and social hierarchies developed when waiting for turns to participate and when engaging in peer chosen teams for games and sports. Physical education class is a place where children interact with peers for the sake of learning. Classes provide knowledge for children on leadership, sports and games, how to play as a team and how to share and cooperate. Recess provides an environment free from adult input and criticism. This time also allows children to work on their peer and social interactions in a less structured setting. Although children are often given some choice in P.E class, recess provides a time where imagination and invention of new games and rules takes place. This not only encourages cognitive stimulation but allows the child to grow and explore his or her abilities.

Recess and Academics

Due to the recent increased emphasis placed on academics, many educational institutions have either reduced the time scheduled for recess, or cut it out completely. In a study done in the United States, it is estimated that 21% of elementary aged students do not have a recess break on an average day (Martin, 2006). An estimated 20 – 30% of elementary aged children have less than 15 minutes a day of recess) (Martin, 2006). The need to balance physical activity and academics of children is the greatest debate with regards to recess. An American study provided evidence that there are inequalities amongst different socioeconomic statuses and racial ethnicities with relation to recess. Reports show that 44% of students whose family income level falls below the poverty line do not have recess, whereas only 17% of children whose family income level is above the poverty line are deprived of recess (Martin, 2006). Approximately 40% of African-American children do not have recess compared to only 15% of Caucasian children (Martin, 2006).

Recess Today

In North America today, recess is a time of recreational play of school children. It is usually outdoors, and the activities are typically left up to the child. Although some playground games common in past years, such as Red Rover, dodgeball, and tether ball, among other have now been taken out of recess play due to the dangerous nature of the games, some of the equipment has been altered as well. Many schools now offer soft “elephant balls” and similar soft styles for play to reduce the chance of injury for children. A controversial issue is whether recess is a right or a privilege. It is common for a teacher to take away recess as a punishment for bad behaviour to either a specific student or an entire class.


Adams, C. Recess Makes Kids Smarter. Scholastic Instructor. Retrieved from
Beighle, A., Morgan, C. F., Le Masurier, G. and Pangrazi, R. P. (2006). Children’s Physical Activity During Recess and Outside of School. Journal of School Health, 76, 516–520. doi: 10.1111/j.1746-1561.2006.00151.x
Carlisle, R.P. (2009). Recess. In Encyclopedia of Play in Today’s Society, 2 31-40. California, Sage Publications.
Jarrett, O., Maxwell, D., Dickerson, C., Hoge, P., Davies, G., Yetley, A. (1998). Impact of Recess on Classroom Behavior: Group Effects and Individual Differences. The Journal of Educational Research, 92 121-126. doi:10.1080/00220679809597584
Martin, D. (2006, April 24). Saving recess. Scholastic news, 74(23), 6. Retrieved from
Merriam-Webster. (2015). Definition of Recess. Retrieved from:
Murray, R., Ramstetter, C. (2012). The Crucial Role of Recess in School. The American Academy of Pediatrics, 131(1) 183-188. doi: 10.1542/peds.2012-2993
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Pellegrini, A., (2008). The Recess: Debate A Disjuncture between Educational Policy and Scientific Research. The American Journal of Play. Retrieved from
Verstraete, S., Cardon, G., De Clercq, D., De Bourdeaudhuij, I. (2006). Increasing Children's Physical Activity Levels During Recess Periods in Elementary Schools: The Effects of Providing Game Equipment. European Journal of Public Health, 16, 415-419.