Student at recess.Vox Efx (image modified). Creative Commons.
Beyond the Classroom

4 Key Ways Recess Improves Classroom Learning

Play time can enhance the classroom experience for both student and teacher.

Often viewed as mindless play or a break from learning, recess has been shown to improve students’ classroom performance and creative thinking skills. Students benefit cognitively, physically, and socially from free play. Recess also benefits teachers, giving them valuable insights into their students’ behavior.
Peter Gray, professor of psychology and blogger for Psychology Today, defines play as an activity that possesses these five characteristics:

  • It Is self-chosen and self-directed
  • The means are more important than ends
  • There are structures and rules, but these may be self-defined
  • It is imaginative, non-literal, and removed from “real” life
  • It involves an active, alert, non-stressed frame of mind

The four key benefits of play include:

  1. Cognitive development
    Studies show improved information retention when students are able to “regroup” brain cells during recess. Schools that devote ample time to nonacademic activities like physical education and art have experienced higher academic test scores.
  2. Social-Emotional intelligence
    Playground games allow students to practice teaching and negotiation skills. Sometimes, minor fights occur, but this gives students an opportunity to learn valuable conflict resolution skills.
  3. Physical health
    Teachers report an increase in good behavior when their students have had at least 15 minutes of recess. A bit of fresh air and exercise is wonderful for students’ physical health.
  4. Classroom management
    Serving as recess supervisor helps teachers better manage their classroom. Watching their students interact provides teachers with insight into their students’ behavior and relationships with each other. Teachers can spot warning signs of bullying this way.

For teachers, it can be tempting to put recess on the back-burner, instead focusing more on standardized test preparation; but the cognitive, physical, and social benefits children experience during free play can actually improve test scores. More importantly, it develops the whole child. Incorporating play in the learning environment shapes free-thinking, innovative, and socially intelligent minds.


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