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Recess Policy Across America: How Does Every State Score?

What States Require Recess?

Recess in the United States is a hot-button issue. Despite recess for elementary-school students being proven to boost academic performance and make children happier, it is often discarded in favor of fulfilling arbitrary quotas of schooling hours and cramming in more lessons in less time. Currently, only five states require some amount of daily recess: Florida, Missouri, New Jersey, and Rhode Island mandate 20 minutes of daily recess for elementary-school students, and Arizona requires two periods of recess with no specified length. Iowa, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, Connecticut, and Virginia require 20 to 30 minutes of daily activity for elementary schools, but it is up to the schools to determine how that time is used (P.E. classes, recess, brain breaks, etc.). We conducted a thorough study on the quality, quantity, laws, and regulations of recess in every U.S. state and assigned each a grade:

What Is the Importance of Recess?

Recess is incredibly valuable for many reasons. Playtime and unstructured recreation are crucial because they nurture all facets of child development. Physical, emotional, cognitive, social, mental, and academic growth are naturally encouraged through play. Time spent on the playground or field builds character beyond the classroom because children make their own choices, create their own games, and build their own communities. In addition to the long-term qualities developed through recess, it also provides an essential reprieve from the stress and pressure of school (and sometimes home). When children feel less stressed, their brains are more prepared and eager to absorb information. Here is a basic overview of the benefits of recess:

Of course, looking only at a historical timeline of world literature might not tell you everything about the when and why of different kinds of literary movements. There are exceptions. For instance, Zadie Smith, who wrote White Teeth, and Chinua Achebe, who wrote Things Fall Apart, were not contemporaries in the generational sense, but both novels were post-colonialist works.

  1. Kids make better food choices. A study of 2,500 elementary students found that kids who have recess before lunch ate 54% more fruits and vegetables.

  2. Recess combats child obesity. Head Start found that child obesity risk was reduced by 42% in school programs with plenty of outdoor play. In fact, overall BMI decreased in these students.

  3. It is a child’s right. The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights declared that “children shall have time to rest and play and equal opportunities for cultural and artistic activities.”

  4. It builds independence. When children have the time and freedom to play, they develop their own interests and find creative ways to keep entertained and moving. Free play is key for developing executive function and self-regulation, which are qualities that will serve them in all aspects of life.

  5. Graduation rates are higher. An American Journal of Public Health study found that kindergarten students who had opportunities to practice social skills during play graduated from high school and college at higher rates.

Feel free to check out our infographic that explores 25 ways that recess helps children be happy, healthy, and successful if you want to learn more. If you want to advocate for recess in schools, here are some resources to get you started:

  1. Shape America’s Strategies for Recess in Schools

  2. Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative’s Advocating for Recess

  3. The Genius of Play’s How to Be an Active Advocate for Play

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