Recess Good for Your Kids, Study Says

Programs like Playworks and BOKS help with kids' studies and social behavior.

Time on the playground is good for your kids. Photo via shutterstock.

Time on the playground is good for your kids. Photo via shutterstock.

A new study released today from Mathematica Policy Research suggests that recess is good for your kids. And not just physically—it’s also been shown to cut down on bullying and help with school work.

We’ve reported on BOKS, the wildly successful before-school program developed by a group of Natick moms, and the “recess coaches” program through Playworks Boston that reaches more than 14,000 students, and now there is data supporting these programs’ missions.

A randomized controlled trial of Playworks, a non-profit organization that focuses on bringing healthy recess time to low-income elementary schools in 22 U.S. cities, found that the program reduced bullying, enhanced feelings of safety at school, increased vigorous physical activity during recess, and provided more time for classroom teaching. What happens at recess can affect a school’s learning environment in important ways, and improving recess and other activities may help schools deal with a number of issues. “Playworks had a positive impact on outcomes in the school climate, conflict resolution and aggression, learning and academic performance, and physical activity domains,” says Susanne James-Burdumy, education area leader for Mathematica. “These impacts suggest that Playworks was beneficial to schools, teachers, and students along multiple dimensions.”

The study found that recess helped decrease bullying (teachers in Playworks schools reported significantly less bullying and exclusionary behavior during recess compared to teachers in control schools); increased feelings of safety in schools (Playworks teachers’ average rating of students’ feelings of safety at school was 20 percent higher than the average rating reported by teachers in control schools); children had more vigorous physical activity (accelerometer data showed that children in Playworks schools spent significantly more time engaged in vigorous physical activity at recess than their peers in control schools); and the kids were more ready to learn (teachers in Playworks schools reported needing significantly less time to transition from recess to learning activities).

In another evaluation, the Harvard Family Research Project credited Playworks with improving cooperation and bonds among students and between kids and adults in school. In other words, recess is about a lot more than playing tag and dodgeball. Schools today are faced with the challenge of boosting academic performances while also having to address the social, emotional, and physical needs of students, and recess may be a great way to do that.