When most people think of recess they think of a time for children to go outside, run around a bit and burn off excess energy. The hope is that the physical activity will make them a little tired so that when they return to the classroom they'll be exhausted just enough to sit still and be quiet for the remainder of the day. Unfortunately, that's not really the purpose of recess. Instead, recess has four main goals. First, it is important to provide children with moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014) and the American Heart Association (2014) recommend children receive at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily. Unfortunately, most kids don't receive nearly that much physical activity on a daily basis. In fact, during the typical school day some schools only offer 10 to 20 minutes of recess time each day. Second, recess is an opportune time to develop social-emotional skills. Allowing students to socialize with their peers in an unstructured environment is critical in helping them develop self-esteem and interpersonal skills.
Third, recess allows for the absorption of vitamin D, which is essential in keeping our immune systems strong. The sun is our main source of vitamin D and getting outside each day in the sunlight is valuable in helping to keep us healthy. Finally, recess provides the body with fresh air, which helps oxygenate our blood, keeping us awake and alert for the remainder of the day. Physical activity, social-emotional development, sunlight, and fresh air are the reasons why every child should go outside to recess every day. In addition, research over the past decade has shown that students who are more physically active and fit perform better academically and behave better in school than students who are not active and fit. And, not just a little bit better. Research from the California Department of Education (2005), using over 900,000 students, showed that children who scored high on the FitnessGram® fitness test scored twice as high on academic achievement tests as their unfit peers. In other words, if you want your students to become better learners, as well as better behaved, then recess should be considered an essential part of the school day.