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Should all K-12 students in Massachusetts be guaranteed daily recess?

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JulieAnn Folan

Easton resident, school parent

JulieAnn FolanHandout

When you hear the word “recess,” visions of kids playing four square, tag, and hopscotch spring to mind. Which is probably why we don’t give much thought to why recess typically ends after elementary school. It’s time we changed that: Recess should be a regular part of every student’s day, including in middle and high schools.

While older students might not utilize recess in the traditional sense, they would benefit immensely from unstructured time outside the classroom. The US Centers for Disease Control says recess improves student “memory, attention, and concentration.”

I saw firsthand the benefits of what my daughters’ second-grade teacher referred to as “brain breaks” during her year of remote learning. While she is typically pretty attentive and focused, after a few hours of learning via Zoom she would become antsy and less engaged. During her “brain breaks” we’d almost always head outside for fresh air, going for a walk or a bike ride. She’d return 15 minutes later - a new student, refreshed and ready to learn again!

It got me thinking how important that kind of break is, even for myself as an adult. Recess in the older grades allows students to unplug from devices, curriculum, and stress, and connect with peers and teachers. I think most educators would agree that 15 minutes of outdoor time would make for a much more productive and enjoyable classroom environment.


Medway’s schools in 2018 extended recess through eigth grade. As its school superintendent, Armand Pires told TODAY Parents, “Recess provides us an opportunity to do something in the middle of the day to give our kids a break, so they can feel less stress and pressure and not like they have to conform to some standardized expectations.”

Recess also helps us instill in our kids early on the importance of balance. I often talk to my daughters about balance relating to exercise, food, and screen time. That should include the balance between work and play. I don’t want my girls to grow up believing that feelings of stress, anxiety, and being overwhelmed are the norm.


How can we expect our kids to grow into adults who value a work-life balance if we don’t teach them how to build time for breaks into their day?


Wilhelmina Howell

2016 graduate of Dover-Sherborn High School, currently a senior studying psychology at the University of Vermont

Wilhelmina HowellHandout

Recess is a longstanding American tradition, and there is no shortage of advocates for it. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends recess be part of the school day because it gives students a break from cognitive tasks and an opportunity to socialize and exercise. But making recess a required part of every student’s day would not be a productive step towards the promotion of student success and wellbeing.

I believe the assumption that recess is beneficial for all students is faulty. Yes, students who can organize an activity or participate in it can have a positive experience that prepares them for learning. But students who are left out of activities, harassed, or bullied have a negative experience that hinders learning. In my time as an instructor at summer camp, I witnessed that same dynamic: children who felt excluded from the four-square games were left with tears streaming down their cheeks. Moreover, social learning that happens at recess seems random. And playground injuries are all too common.


Rather than mandate recess, I would favor replacing it with structured time for all students that gives them a sense of collaboration and helps them understand and manage their emotions. The ability to partake in a planned activity can help to reduce anxiety among students who struggle with forced free time among peers. As students reach middle school, these types of structured activities can also break down social barriers and decrease the likelihood of the formation of cliques.

When I was in school, I found that strategizing and coming together with my peers to achieve a common goal was highly satisfying. In high school, working on team ceramics projects was an example of a guided activity that was not only invigorating but also therapeutic, promoting mindfulness and creativity.

In my personal experience, the recreational time spent away from the classroom was most enriching when coupled with a sense of direction. Guided methods of play for even young students help to foster a real feeling of achievement. Students are able to garner a sense of pride in their accomplishment following the completion of a guided activity. Giving students more opportunities to join in these fun, safe, and collaborative activities is a much healthier approach than mandating unstructured recess time.

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact

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