Why Recess is Crucial for Child...

Why Recess is Crucial for Child Development

by Mara Hurst
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Recess is a routine outdoor time for elementary school students. This is a time of the day for students to be physically active outside, and take part in various forms of play. As an ECE student, I am constantly told just how important recess is for children. Recess allows children to exercise, form friendships, explore their imagination, and improve on specific skills.

First, outdoor recess brings children closer to nature. Spending time in grass, near trees or bushes, and other natural materials has a great impact on children. This time outside gives them fresh air and sunlight. All these things boost children’s mood and cognition, and it is essential for them to be outdoors often. In fact, “children’s diminishing time outdoors in unstructured play experiences correlates with increased incidents of stress, anxiety, and depression.” (Child Development, pg 496) So the more time children get to spend outdoors, the less likely they are to have increased amounts of stress and anxiety. Outdoor time boosts their mood for the rest of the day. Children being close to nature affects their understanding of emotions as well. Children who spend more time in nature were found to be more empathetic towards other people, and develop empathy sooner than children who were not outdoors often.

Second, recess builds upon a child’s physical development and their physical literacy. Recess offers plenty of space for children to engage in rigorous physical activity, which they do not get to experience while in class. Children have specific movements and physical developmental goals, and these can only be reached by spending time outside and taking part in physical activity. The specific movements children must learn are: running, jumping, throwing, catching, balancing and kicking. These skills can only be learned in gym class, or during recess when in a school setting. Physical benefits of recess include: maintaining a healthy weight, encouraging muscle growth, developing strong bones, and improving a child’s sleeping and eating habits. Physical literacy is a lifelong skill that children develop in situations like recess. Physical literacy is the understanding, motivation and confidence to take part in physical activity and exercise, as part of their lifestyle. “Physical activity enables children and adults to release tension, have fun, learn social skills, and build-self esteem as they develop skills.” (Healthy Foundations, pg 333) Physical activity benefits all other areas of a child’s development.

Recess is crucial for other developmental areas as well. It affects a child’s cognitive, social and emotional development. Regarding a child’s emotional development, recess offers a break from daily stressors. This time allows children to reduce any anxiety or depression and improves upon their ability to manage stress. Recess is an excellent time for children to develop their social skills. It provides an unstructured, child-led environment for them to connect with their peers. Children can use this time to develop strong friendships and work on their problem-solving skills. The benefits of recess trickle into a child’s cognitive development as well. After recess children have an increase in their concentration, memory, alertness, creativity and motivation to learn.

The benefits of recess are endless! Children are improving on their social, physical, cognitive, and emotional development through the bit of recess they receive. This time allows children to develop and become well-functioning adults, and prevent future issues. In fact, children should receive more recess time. Being away from the classroom will benefit their grades, friendships, and physical health.




Pimento, B. Kernested, D. Healthy Foundations in Early Childcare Settings. 6th edition. (2019) Nelson.

Santrock. Deater-Deckard. Lansford. Piercy. Rosati. Child Development. 2nd edition. (2022) McGraw Hill.

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