Why Mandatory Recess Policies Are Needed

January 11, 2023

Lysa Ratliff, KABOOM!'s CEO, is serving as an At-Large Member of Maryland Governor-Elect Wes Moore's Transition Team. Read the comments she submitted to the incoming Administration on the importance of introducing a mandatory recess policy in the State of Maryland.

At KABOOM! we constantly collaborate with nonprofits, grassroots organizations, coalitions, and lawmakers at every level to secure equitable public investment in playspaces that support the mental and physical health of kids. To further this goal, Lysa Ratliff, KABOOM! CEO is honored to serve as an At-Large Member of Maryland Governor-Elect Wes Moore's Transition Team. As part of the transition team’s work, Lysa submitted comments to the incoming Administration on the importance of introducing a mandatory recess policy in the State of Maryland. Read her comments below.

Since children have resumed in-person classroom learning, a disturbing negative trend in academic performance has emerged. Isolation and the inconsistencies of a regular routine have disrupted development in ways that are difficult to measure and exacerbated the negative impact of existing disparities. The reasons for this are as diverse as the children our education systems in Maryland serve; from inequitable access to broadband services in poor and racially segregated communities, to disparities in health outcomes caused by the political and social determinants of health, and to gaps in educational resources which predated—and therefore laid the foundation for—the pandemic’s severe impact on students’ learning in urban and rural districts. For these reasons, and many others, we are seeing a decline in our children’s academic performance.

One reason that is often overlooked by many policymakers is a lack of student physical activity. In 2021, the World Health Organization conducted a review of studies examining a connection between physical activity and academic achievement. It concluded that “Academic achievement was likely improved by increased time in physical education, a switch from seated activities to more ‘active’ classrooms, and regular physical activity – such as walking, dance, and sports – during the week.”

To promote better access to physical activity, there is something the incoming Moore-Miller Administration can do right away to address this need. According to the National Association of School Boards of Education, Maryland is only one of 13 states in the country which does not have any kind of mandatory recess policy. In both Virginia and the District of Columbia, students are guaranteed a right to daily recess which cannot be withheld as a form of punishment. In Maryland, recess should no longer be an afterthought, instead it must be viewed for the critical role it plays in the learning process and should therefore be available to every child in every school.

A Maryland recess policy should, whenever possible, encourage outdoor recess and active play. Not only does play on a schoolyard playground help reduce stress and increase feelings of self-confidence, but it has also been shown to be an effective strategy to help protect young people’s mental health according to a 2021 Surgeon General’s public health advisory. This approach to learning is centered on a whole-student philosophy which integrates the physical, mental, and emotional needs of the child and hopefully carries through over the whole spectrum of life producing healthier, happier, and more well-rounded adults.

At KABOOM! we know the important role that play has in the lives of children, in the classroom, and beyond. The social skills that are informally developed while playing is a safe way for kids to reconnect and feel safe and confident again. In Baltimore, with our partners, KABOOM! has invested over $5.5 million to build or refurbish 76 different playspaces throughout the city, including schoolyard playgrounds. This investment is paying dividends in the lives of thousands of children previously denied access to a quality playground. Now is the moment to ensure that every child can have this same opportunity by guaranteeing them the right to at least 20 minutes of recess time daily.

I will continue to work with the other members of the Education Policy Transition Committee to advance this idea and look forward to working with Governor-elect Moore and the rest of his team as we find ways to improve the lives of Maryland’s children and plot a course for a more prosperous future for everyone who calls Maryland home.