Kids Brains Are Hardwired for Recess, New Study Finds

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Here’s something that you probably already know—kids need recess. But is just any ol’ recess okay? Hmm. Science says maybe not. Recent research from Oregon State University shows that the quality and safety of the playground equipment and the ways that both adults engage with children and the way children engage with other children, all play crucial roles in the recess equation.

The research, published in the journal BMC Public Health, builds on past research—which has found that recess and other group play opportunities can help social and emotional development. Even though it might seem pretty obvious that playing as a group could help children to build communication, sharing and even conflict resolution abilities, recess isn’t always a joyous, helpful or even okay experience for children.



Through “The Great Recess Framework” (a 17-item observational tool), the researchers looked at various facets of recess, such as the structural safety of the equipment being used, availability of organized games, adult engagement/supervision, child to adult ratios, adult participation in activities, child behavior and the recess to class transition.

After testing the “Framework” tool in 649 recess sessions across 495 different schools, they found that recesses offering more equipment/game choices, a smoother recess to class transition, adults who were engaged in the children’s play and less bullying were higher quality. According to the current data, the researchers believe that adult engagement (not just standing there and supervising, but also getting into the action themselves) is connected to a higher quality recess environment.

Even though the researcher’s recess tool has found some preliminary connections, they still need to take it into more playgrounds across the country. This may return results that indicate how a good/bad recess affects students’ classroom behaviors along with ideas for how teachers can better use these play periods.

—Erica Loop

Featured Photo: Kristina Moy


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