Recess: Follow the Bounding Ball

Open Access
Brelsford, Jeannette L.
Graduate Program:
Educational Leadership
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
November 28, 2011
Committee Members:
  • Roger C Shouse, Dissertation Advisor
  • Roger C Shouse, Committee Chair
  • Dr Preston Green, Committee Member
  • Dana Lynn Mitra, Committee Member
  • James F Nolan Jr., Committee Member
  • Vitamin D Deficiency
  • Wellness Policy 246
  • Positive Behavior Support
  • Cognitive
  • Ethic
  • Socialization
  • Case Study
  • Phenomenology
  • Physical Activity
  • Play
  • Recess
  • Childhood Obesity
  • History
  • PSSA
The opportunity for children to experience free-play (i.e. recess) with parallel opportunities to interact and relate with their peers has been diminished or eliminated in many school systems across the United States. The movement to minimize recess in schools is popular among politicians and school superintendents; they see it as a way to get tough on education, provide more academic time for students, and improve academic performance to meet Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) criteria. Although many educators and parents recognize the importance of maximizing the efficient use of relatively scarce classroom time, they also see the necessity for breaks between periods of intense work where children can both relax and interact with their peers. The hope is students will return to their classrooms with renewed interest. "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" is a well known proverb. In school, students work hard, their heads bent over their books, and most look forward to recess. As popularly conceived, recess is a time for students to release pent up energy built up after hours of sitting quietly, learning the lessons of the day, Anthony Pelligrini calls this the “surplus energy” theory. For students, recess provides a welcome reprieve from studies. One can easily observe children sitting anxiously awaiting the time when they can run out the door and get on the best kickball team, play tag, climb on playground equipment, or simply exchange the latest news. The playground swells with students having conversations, racing around, or just laughing and playing independently. Despite such happy images, however, the perception exists and, for some, the reality exists that recess is becoming an endangered practice in many American schools. An oft-cited cause of the decline of recess is the pressures upon schools to meet the demands of the federal law…… “No Child Left Behind” legislation and their need to “squeeze in every minute for lessons that could help raise scores on standardized tests” (Gammill, 2007, p.4). Other cited reasons involve the deterioration of some school playgrounds or issues of safety and liability. But some suggest that cutting back recess or eliminating it altogether is comparable to the elimination of work breaks or the shortening of lunchtime in an adult working environment in order to increase productivity standards (Starr, 2007). The cutting back of such individual free time in schools or corporations would seem to prompt concerns for the general well-being of individuals denied adequate breaks as well as for its impact on overall morale and productivity. Corporations such as “Google” was named in U.S. World and News Report as being one of if not the best environment in the world to work – because the employees play all day while at work. Nevertheless, a dual discourse now surrounds the concept of school recess. On one hand, recess is understood as a traditional part of the elementary school day; a time when students can go outside, get away from classroom regimentation, and engage in self-directed physical or social activity with their peers. Under this line of argument, recess serves multiple purposes; many of which are subtle and difficult to objectively measure. On the other hand, recess is viewed by some as anachronistic, an unnecessary throwback to an earlier time when school academic achievement was less critical to students’ future lives. For others in this same camp, recess may be viewed as impractical in an era when schools must aim more resources toward academic matters and fewer toward providing a safe outdoor environment. Although the value of recess in terms of objective student outcomes has been examined in various studies, a prevailing consensus is yet to be reached. At the same time, it seems reasonable to suggest that the value of recess lies not simply in measurable student outcomes, but also in the beliefs of administrators and teachers that the practice represents an important part of what makes a “good,” “healthy,” or “ethical”.