CDC joins health educators to expand and enhance recess for all students

Only eight states in the country require recess for students during the school day, prompting SHAPE America to team up with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to advocate for recess for students in all grades, deeming it a “critical” part of the school day.

Georgia mandates physical education in grades K-8, but does not require daily recess.

Here is an essay by SHAPE America CEO E. Paul Roetert.

By E. Paul Roetert

Active recess has taken a giant leap forward, having been validated by two of the nation’s leading school health authorities as a critical part of the school day. And what’s more, guidance is now available to help schools make the most of it.

Thanks to a joint effort of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and SHAPE America – Society of Health and Physical Educators, schools now have resources to help them create active recess periods that use classroom breaks to full advantage. Our hope is that these resources will help more schools realize the value of recess.

Daily recess has been shown to have a profound impact on a child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development. Properly structured and monitored by well-trained staff or volunteers, recess helps students achieve the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity, improving their overall health and well-being, academic achievement, and self-esteem.

Recess is not a substitute for an effective physical education program, which teaches students the skills and knowledge they need to establish and sustain an active lifestyle. Physical education teachers assess student knowledge, motor skills and social skills, providing necessary instruction on a variety of physical activity experiences in a safe, supportive environment. The goal is to help students achieve physical literacy – the ability to move with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefit the healthy development of the whole person.

When recess is incorporated in partnership with physical education, students have the opportunity to apply and practice their knowledge and skills outside the classroom. Through games and play, they learn conflict resolution and how to work fairly with others. Recess allows them to expand their imaginations and creativity, and blow off steam in an environment where the mind-body connection can flourish.

A prime example of this can be seen at Thomasville Primary School in Thomasville, NC. Incorporating an active recess program has had a profound effect on the school’s K-3 students, who had exhibited a range of problems, from obesity to unruly behavior to playground bullying. Recess had been compromised by a small, unwelcoming playground, and was occasionally withheld as punishment. The district’s visionary Healthy Eating Active Living Coordinator, Alyson Shoaf, embarked on radical recess reform after attending a recess training session at the SHAPE America National Convention in Minneapolis last year.

With support from principal Angela Moore, the playground was rehabilitated with individually colored and uniquely equipped activity zones and structured activities and games were incorporated into each day’s 30-minute recess, with teachers actively involved in their classes’ recess time. As a result of these efforts, student behavior and attitudes have improved so dramatically that the district has instituted a games-based active recess in its middle and high schools.

In Fort Worth, Texas, a pilot program for kindergarten and first-grade students instituted four 15-minute recess breaks each day (two before lunch and two after), along with a character-building curriculum called “Positive Action,” designed to curb bullying and help improve self-esteem. The program has proved so successful that it has expanded to private and public schools statewide and several schools in Ohio and Kansas. Parents say that their children’s after-school activities have changed as a result of the program – – instead of coming home exhausted and watching TV or playing video games, kids are motivated to complete their homework in 30 minutes, so they can go outside to ride bikes and play with other kids.

Now students throughout the U.S. can realize similar benefits by using the new guidance documents created by SHAPE America and CDC. Strategies for Recess in Schools and Recess Planning in Schools: A Guide to Putting Strategies for Recess into Practice give schools a blueprint for implementing successful recess programs such as those in Thomasville and Fort Worth.

The evidence-based strategies are designed for students from grades K through 12. Although middle and high schools may not call it “recess,” the goal is still the same – – to offer students a period of time to be active outside of classroom physical activity and physical education. It is just one component of SHAPE America’s 50 Million Strong commitment, which seeks to empower all children to lead healthy and active lives through effective health and physical education programs.

As Holly Hunt, chief of the CDC’s School Health Branch, notes, “Schools can create recess environments that support physical activity, positively impact student learning, and improve classroom behavior, and these should provide all students with the opportunity to choose the physical activities in which they’d like to engage in. “

Just last month, we marked the first anniversary of the signing of our country’s new education plan, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaces the controversial No Child Left Behind Act of 2002.

When ESSA kicks into gear in schools at the beginning of the 2017-2018 academic year, school health and physical education, for the first time, will be considered an integral part of a student’s well-rounded education, along with subjects such as art, music, civics, and science. The implementation of ESSA will give a new generation of students a chance to reap the benefits of leading healthy, active lives.


Reader Comments 0


Back when common sense ran the schools, we had a fifteen minute morning recess, a thirty minute after lunch recess, and another fifteen minute afternoon recess.  We also had honest to goodness playground equipment such as swings, see-saws, slides and Jungle Gyms.    We played Tag and Dodge Ball and several other games that are now banned because we don't want anyone to get their feelings hurt.

I am also of the opinion that many of the "ailments" such as ADD and ADHD could be "cured" by simple diet and exercise.  I also think that many of the "behavior issues" in today's schools are little more than pent up energy.

They're children, not little human robots.  They need fresh air and sunshine.  They need to run and jump and yell and burn off that excess energy.

Sadly, all these mail order "Doctors" we have running our schools dismiss that simple fact.


Clayton County Board of Education voted in a mandatory recess time for students. DAILY.

Tom Green
Tom Green

Although I agree with this in philosophy, it's just one more outside entity that is lined up at the school-house door pushing an agenda. Please leave education to educators and we'll leave control of diseases to the CDC.

Pamela Russman-Chambers
Pamela Russman-Chambers

Educators might not be experts on physical health, Tom. Collaboration is a good thing.

Lucas Jensen
Lucas Jensen

The CDC is an educational body as well as a research body.


Unfortunately, many think recess is "lost academic time."  Malarkey!  Our kids need MORE time outside,moving around, negotiating socially, learning about sportsmanship, and less time stuck in a classroom or parked at home in front of a screen.

I worked under a principal who did not like recess--thought it was time wasted--and limited classes to one 15 minute period per day.  This was for 7-10 year olds!  You got outside and then turned around and went back in. (She also asked us to use "bathroom time" to drill the kids waiting in line on math facts, so as not to "waste time.")

I recall two 20-30 minute periods per day when we were outside, running around, swinging, crossing the monkey bars.  Sometimes our teachers would "throw the rope" for us to jump rope, or we took turns.  We played kickball!

Now, it seems like most of the kids stand around and eat high-calorie snacks.  Only a small, dedicated group will play soccer or touch football.  I notice, too, that our playgrounds are stripped of things that kids "might get hurt on."

I believe kids are like plants: It takes, sun, dirt, and water to grow.


Amen, Wascatlady! I remember having thirty minute recess each day after lunch, and I grew up where it snows five months out of the year. We also had recess at the end of the day if all of the lesson plans had been covered. I vividly remember teachers using recess as a way to get us to pay attention - "If we get through these problems on time, you'll get twenty minutes on the playground." Best classroom control ever used.

Everyone needs a break and recess should be mandatory. I think it should extend to high schoolers, too. My high school had study hall periods with the option to drop in any of the PE classes (aerobics, dance, weight room, etc...). Now the kids are all on lockdown. I think the only place most kids are allowed to visit during the day is the front office to take their ADHD meds.