New data shows disparities in withholding of recess

October 10, 2023

The report comes as California Governor signs “Right to Recess” bill into law

School recess is critical to helping kids meet their recommended hour of daily physical activity– something that less than a quarter of children and adolescents get in the United States. The active play children experience on a schoolyard helps them grow to be happy and healthy adults, which is why more states should adopt “Right to Recess” policies like the one Governor Gavin Newsom of California just signed into law.

Vigorous, active play supports better academic performance, mental and physical health, and helps children build social connection with their peers. Despite these widely understood benefits, a new survey of 559 U.S. elementary schools shows a wide racial and economic disparity in school recess access. According to the survey, schools serving predominantly Black and low-income students were more likely to withhold recess as a punishment for disciplinary or academic issues despite evidence indicating that this is not an effective means of altering those behaviors.

Most states have laws requiring their Departments of Education to encourage school districts to provide daily recess periods for elementary school pupils, while also allowing districts to adopt rules that permit schools to revoke recess for disciplinary purposes. With California’s adoption of a “right to recess” policy, there are now only ten states that ensure children have a guaranteed period of school recess.

Most United States elementary schools provide recess. However, regional and economic disparities exist. Promoting supportive practices for recess, particularly for schools serving lower-income communities, is necessary.”

Prevalence of Recess and Supportive Practices at a Nationwide Sample of Public Elementary Schools in the United States

The study notes that withholding recess and other opportunities for physical activity due to behavioral or academic issues may actually drive students to act out more. That’s just one of the many reasons why KABOOM! has supported “right to recess” policies in Maryland when our CEO, Lysa Ratliff, served on Governor Wes Moore’s transition team and in California where we worked with our partner, the Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation to advocate for this specific bill.

We're committed to continuing our drive to ensure that all children have the opportunities for active play that they need to grow and learn effectively. By working to build playspaces in historically disinvested communities and supporting policies that create more opportunities for kids to play, we can address playspace inequity together.