FAQs about Recess

What is recess?

Recess is a break period in the day for children. Three critical components of recess are: 1. time to be outdoors 2. time for unstructured free play/free socializing 3. it involves physical activity.

Recess is a priority that can be supported by physical education curriculum (teaching games and sports that can go out to the yard). Recess “recharges the battery” so children return to the classroom ready to learn.


How important is recess at my child’s school?

Recess can be seen as part of school curriculum. For most children, this is the only time they have to learn social skills, conflict resolution skills, and explore what comes with unstructured time. Recess is an important part of a child’s educational day. Studies prove that kids who get recess perform better in school (academically and behaviorally) at all grade levels.

Children need to go outside and play every day. Most children in our city get on buses, go to school, return home and remain indoors all day. Lack of physical activity often leads to health problems such as depression and obesity.


What should recess look like?

Recess can be run by supervisors (teachers, aides, specials teachers, parents) who are trained in basic conflict resolution strategies and social skill-building. Recess is the time when kids can effectively learn to work out social issues and with guidance; they should have vehicles for leaving their issues on the playground rather than bringing them back to the classroom. Common strategies like “rock, paper, scissors” work wonders if they are embraced across the entire school community. Recess is a time for kids to play on equipment (playground), organize their own games (with balls, jump ropes, etc.) and talk. There should be general areas for different sorts of activities so kids can have fun and not interfere with each others games.


How do we get kids moving during recess?

Provide basic black-top markings for games like hopscotch, 4-square, etc. Basic equipment like balls and jump ropes will help keep kids moving.


When is it too cold to go outside for recess?

Adopting a policy that encourages kids to come prepared for outdoor winter recess is essential. Snow pants, hats, mittens, and snow boots can be required for full free play and limitations can be set on kids who are not prepared. For example, students who are not wearing snow boots may have to stay in a more confined area along a sidewalk. When dressed appropriately, kids enjoy playing outdoors at very low temperatures. Extra gear can be collected so that each classroom has a few extra things in case a child comes unprepared. The most important thing is to have a consistent message in the community that going outdoors is an essential part of recess. Community education is an important piece of this so that everyone understands that germs are what make us sick, not going outdoors in cold temperatures.


What can kids do when they must be indoors during recess?

Every schools' recipe for this will be a little different based on the facility. The goal is to try and uphold at least one key component of recess. Working with administration to look at the school schedule and facility is the first step. So, if going outdoors is not possible, try and uphold free-choice and social time. Look for ways to provide physical activity through games, dance on a stage in an auditorium, or free-play in the gymnasium. For example, quiet independent reading does not embody any recess component.


How can I raise awareness of the value of recess at my school?

First, check if your school has a 6.5 hour day schedule that allows for two 10 minute recess breaks and a 45 minute recess/lunch period.  Every CPS school is eligible for this schedule, however it does require a school “site-vote” to make the change.  See the Raise Your Hand FAQ and information on the Fit for Learning campaign that promotes this schedule for CPS schools.  Talk to your Principal, LSC and teachers about moving to this schedule that is designed to accommodate recess time. 

Second, start a Wellness Committee. This can be under the LSC or your PTA/PTO.

A Wellness Committee convenes parents and teachers to work together and set goals for your school based on national and state standards regarding physical activity and nutrition.

There is also CPS policy around having a Wellness Team at your school which comprises the Principal, Nurse, PE teacher, Engineer, Parents and Teachers. It is important to work with staff to make sure that your efforts are effective and embraced. Look online for: CPS Local School Wellness Policy Addressing Nutrition and Physical Activity in Schools (Board Report# 06-0823-P04).

This indicates that schools should provide students with an opportunity to participate in physical activity for a minimum of 150 minutes per week and to align curriculum with National Health Education and Physical Education Standards and that students should engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity for 15-30 minutes, 5 days a week.

Third, once you determine what is best for your school based on available resources (facility, supervision, etc.), you can integrate the new Health and Wellness category into your SIPAAA.


What is SIPAAA?

SIPPA stands for: The School Improvement Plan for Advancing Academic Achievement. It is a strategic plan created by each Chicago Public School.  This plan identifies the school's strengths, concerns, and priority areas for improvement; it is approved by the Local School Council and Chief Area Officer, where applicable. The action plan described in the SIPAAA, supported by the school's funds, is implemented and adjusted over a two-year period.

For more specific questions or resources, contact Nancy Zwick at nancy@nancyzwickstudio.com