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The Slow Death of School Recess

by Carmen Boettcher

Nov 16, 2017

Once upon a time... 

I vividly remember the days of walking in line with my classmates to meet our Physical Education teacher outside on the playground and anxiously wondering what fun games we were going to play today. Will we be playing a game of dodgeball or kickball, or will we have to conquer an obstacle course (with lava)?

Kids Playing Carmen Blog

Do you remember the excitement and anticipation of taking a break from the daily mundane of teachers squeezing new information into your brain at school to go outside and play with your friends? I do, and every day I looked forward to spending an hour of playtime with my friends! 

Back to reality

As technologists, we want to raise our children to be tech savvy so that they can grow up to be successful in this modern, data-driven world. Unfortunately, this leads many of us to encourage activities like sitting at a computer coding instead of playing outdoors. We encourage that our children channel their imagination through technology, drawing on iPads instead of driveways. We realize that missing out on physical activity can be detrimental to the health and development of our children, but isn't their school maintaining that balance through recess and physical education classes?

Sadly, reports are showing a decline of schools offering physical activities as part of their curriculum, and the trend continues to get worse with the passing of each school year. Our recollection of childhood memories of playing on the playground during school may not be a memory students in today’s version of the world will ever be able to realize and recall as adults. What’s even worse is that children are losing out on the exercise they require to stay mentally and physically healthy.

School surveys convey the message that most students are offered recess however, if you dig into the data, you will see that the number of minutes allocated for recess are shrinking year-over-year. 

Why not enforce requirements for physical activity?

Every state has some form of requirements for physical activity, but the requirements are often limited or not enforced. Children should receive at least 60 minutes of activity a day to help counterbalance sedentary time.

Here are a few examples of requirements enforced among a sample of states (Trust for America’s Health).




  • 30 minutes of recess each day for K-5


  • 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day for Grades K-8
  • School board to establish a school healthy advisory council


  • 50% of physical education class be used for actual physical activity
  • Physical activity to be at a moderate-to-vigorous level


  • 150 hrs./week of physical activity for grade K-9
  • Students in grades 6-8 must receive an average of at least 225 minutes per week

Although the requirements seem appealing, they are not meeting the average amount of exercise children need to stay healthy. 

What changed? 

With the prevalence of child obesity, and decline in academic achievement, why would physical activity not be baked into a school’s daily curriculum? The reason is the same excuse we, as technology oriented parents, are using to justify a lack in after-school physical education: it is harder to prepare a child for a prosperous life than a healthy one. Results show that the increased pressure of accountability in the school system to ensure students are testing at their grade level have resulted in a knee jerk reaction to sacrifice recess to increase classroom time. According to Neporent (2013), since the enactment of No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, 44% of schools have reported diverting time from “phys ed” classes and recess to reading and mathematics in the classroom to meet the demands of students passing standardized tests. There are also reports that recess minutes have dropped from 37 minutes a day to an average 24 to 27 minutes a day by 2008 (Bossenmeyer, 2013) since the enactment of No Child Left Behind Act. 

Effects of increased and decreased play

Child obesity rates are alarming, and some say that it’s connected to less recess and play. The rate of obesity rates closely correlates with the last several decades schools have been reducing recess.

BMI Image Carmen Blog

According to the CDC, recess can benefit the mental health of children as well as the physical health by:

  • Improving their memory, attention, and concentration
  • Helping them stay on-task in the classroom
  • Reducing disruptive behavior in the classroom
  • Improving their social and emotional development (e.g., learning how to share and negotiate)
Decreased Play Image Carmen Blog

So how can we, as technology parents, help to prepare our kids for a life of career success while ensuring that they don't turn into Bob, the Burger loving consultant who doesn't leave his chair all day? The simple answer is by encouraging them to exercise and play with physical toys instead of digital ones. Here are some examples of ways that you can engage your kids in technology-intended activities away from the screen:

  • Encourage the use of building blocks, legos, or other household objects to build robots or complex structures
  • Take a lesson in physics outdoors by testing how quickly objects can roll down a hill or launching rockets and retrieving them in a park
  • Fly a kite
  • Build a color wheel and have kids identify objects in nature by their HEX code
  • Wrap sheet paper around a tree and have them take their coding practice outdoors
  • Quiz kids in math on the foot of your stairs, each correct answer, they get to go up one step. First to the top wins! 

There are all sorts of ways that you can encourage healthy living while still preparing your child for a future in tech, it just requires a bit of creativity. Learn more activities for raising healthy, tech-savvy kids at and

Final thoughts

Although physical activity is still promoted in most schools, recess is slowly dying to influential factors, such as the No Child Left Behind Act. Providing children with more opportunities for physical activity during the school day is a move that will help offset the rate of childhood obesity, and behavior problems in school settings. We as parents can also do our part at home to encourage healthy learning through outdoor and interactive activities.