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Overwhelming research demonstrates the positive effects when kids get more recess. (Photo courtesy of Linnea Westerlind)

Many states have laws protecting recess; why not Washington? | Perspective

Recess doesn’t take away from learning, instead, it’s critical for it. 

As parents, we know that play and physical activity are incredibly important in raising healthy and happy kids. And at school, the primary place that happens is at recess.  

Overwhelming research demonstrates the positive effects when kids get more recess. They are more physically active, have less stress and anxiety, have better social-emotional skills, can concentrate longer, are less disruptive in the classroom and have a more positive attitude about school. 

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Recess is a necessary break in the day for optimizing a child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development. In essence, recess should be considered a child’s personal time, and it should not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons. To be effective, the frequency and duration of breaks should be sufficient to allow the student to mentally decompress.”

Given the research showing why recess is so critical to youth development, it’s no surprise that states across the country are creating laws to make sure all kids get recess. 

Newest recess laws:

Six states introduced legislation this year that would address recess in schools, according to research by the King County Play Equity Coalition:

  • Georgia: HB 1283 would require daily recess for grades K-5. This bill passed Georgia’s state house a few weeks ago by a vote of 159-6 and is awaiting a signature from the governor. 
  • Minnesota: HF 3402 would ban withholding recess for disciplinary reasons.
  • New Mexico: SB 24 would require 30 minutes of daily recess for grades K-3.
  • New York: S1044 would require 20 minutes of daily recess for grades K-5.
  • Oklahoma: HB 3047 would require 40 minutes of daily recess for pre-K-8 and ban withholding recess.
  • Pennsylvania: HB 2063 would require 30 minutes of daily recess or an unstructured break for grades K-12 and ban withholding recess.

Photo courtesy of Monique Burton

More than 20 states already have recess or physical-activity laws in place, including Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and West Virginia. The most recent law to pass was in Illinois in 2021, which bans withholding recess and requires 30 minutes of daily unstructured free time for elementary school students. 

Unfortunately, there is no Washington state law guaranteeing kids get recess. A 2007 bill in the Washington state Legislature that would have required 60 minutes of daily recess for K-12 failed to pass. 

A report by the King County Play Equity Coalition in 2019 — the State of Play Report — found that only 19% of youth in King County regularly receive 60 minutes of daily physical activity. The Centers for Disease Control recommends 60 minutes of moderate to rigorous physical activity daily for youth ages 6-17. It’s clear we have a long way to go. 

There has never been a more important time to invest in recess. Our kids have experienced trauma, anxiety and isolation during this pandemic. That stress inhibits executive functioning, which is critical for readiness to learn and academic success. Recess doesn’t take away from learning; instead, it’s critical for it. 

Washington state lawmakers should follow the science — and their peers around the country — and pass legislation ensuring schools provide recess. 

Want to get involved? Take this statewide parent recess survey:

About the authors:

Monique Burton, M.D., is the medical director of the Sports Medicine Program at Seattle Children’s hospital and a parent of first- and third-graders in Seattle Public Schools. She serves on the Leadership Team for the King County Play Equity Coalition. Linnea Westerlind is a guidebook author, play advocate, co-founder of Outdoor Childhood Puget Sound and parent of three kids in Seattle Public Schools. She is a volunteer with the King County Play Equity Coalition’s advocacy committee. 

The King County Play Equity Coalition is a network of more than 115 cross-sector organizations aiming to transform our region into a place where all youth — especially youth from historically underserved groups furthest from play equity — experience the physical, social and emotional benefits of play, sports, outdoor recreation and physical activity. 

Published May 4, 2022

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