The Relevance of Recess

 In Articles

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How Playing is a Requisite for a Healthy Child

Recess and play seem to be fading from schools and from our children’s lives. Schools are choosing to cut recess time, the only time of the day children get to relax and play, in favor of an emphasis on studying.

But playing is one of the most important activities for children. And taking play away from a child actually harms them in the long run.


Playing helps children learn about and explore the world as well as relationships in ways they can’t when supervised. When “free playing,” children are able to go at their own pace, make their own decisions, and discover and pursue things they love outside of a normal school day


Types of Play

As they grow, children use three distinct types of play to engage with the world and others.


  1. Exploration
    • Playing with and picking up objects in the world around them. This is how children learn about shapes and textures
  2. Imaginative
    • Dressing up and imitating roles from movies or creating their own narratives. Imaginative play helps children learn how to interact with one another and act out future potential social situations
  3. Physical
    • This is the running, hopping, jumping, playing games, etc. that helps with muscle and joint development


All these types of play often overlap, creating different layers of learning and development. Play “allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles…[This] enhance[s] confidence and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges.” (Ginsburg)

And recess is a prime, scheduled time of day when children have the freedom to engage in all of these types of play.

mr rogers play quote

All Work and No Play…


Researchers today have found a link between childhood and adolescent depression and the increased pressure placed on preparation for high achieving adulthood. [*]

Schools are cutting recess in order to make more time for children to study. Likewise, parents are adding after school activities that will look good on future resumes in lieu of allowing free play.


Playing (and Recess) Makes Us Smarter and Calmer


Obviously, academics or learning an instrument or sport is not inherently bad. But free time is linked to reduced stress and clearer thinking in children.

In fact, teachers report that just 15 minutes of free play leads directly to better behavior and performance in the classroom. This is because these unsupervised breaks allow children to get out their physical jitters and also renew and enhance their cognitive capacity.


So the idea of taking recess or playtime away from a kid who isn’t behaving actually makes their behavior worse.


calvin better memories

Playing, and recess, are undeniably essential parts of a child’s development. By taking playtime away from our children we are also robbing them of important skills and learning experiences.



 So Remember:

  • Less play can lead to depression, reduction of ability to focus or learn, and a lack of social skills
  • 15 minutes or more of play=better classroom behavior and performance
  • If a child is acting up, it might be best to let them play for a little
  • Playing helps your child learn on their own terms
  • When playing with your child, let them take the lead. After all, you’re in charge the rest of the time




[*] Milteer, R. M., Ginsburg, K. R., & Mulligan, D. A. (2011). The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bond: Focus on Children in Poverty. Pediatrics, 129

Special thanks to PTC’s own Vaishali Nileshwar for agreeing to be interviewed for this blog.

If your child seems to be struggling with social issues or aspects of play, contact Pediatric Therapy Center at 713-772-1400 for an evaluation. 

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