Recess (break)

Stormy times coffee break on a summer balcony
Phan Dinh Phung High School (Hanoi, Vietnam) during recess.

Recess is a general term for a period in which a group of people are temporarily dismissed from their duties. Some jurisdictions make it a legal requirement, that all children who attend school must have this break or recess. Bronson Alcott, who wanted his students to have active physical play and time to talk, is considered to be one of its first supporters.

In education, recess is the American term (known as "lunch" or "break" in the UK and Ireland, also recognized as recess in Australia and Canada where it is a much smaller break period where students have a mid morning snack and play before having lunch after a few more lessons, or "interval" or "morning tea" in New Zealand) for a daily period, typically ten to thirty minutes, in elementary school where students are allowed to leave the school's interior to enter its adjacent outdoor playground, where they can play on recreational equipment, such as seesaws and swing sets, or engage in activities such as basketball, dodgeball, or four square. Many middle schools also offer a recess to provide students with a sufficient opportunity to consume quick snacks, communicate with their peers, visit the restroom, study, and various other activities.

In parliamentary procedure, an assembly may take a recess, which may be done by a motion to do so.

Importance of play in child development

During recess, children play, and learning through play has been long known as a vital aspect of childhood development. Some of the earliest studies of play began with G. Stanley Hall, in the 1890s. These studies sparked an interest in the developmental, mental and behavioral tendencies of babies and children. Current research emphasizes recess as a place for children to “role-play essential social skills” and as an important time in the academic day that “counterbalances the sedentary life at school.”[1] Play has also been associated with the healthy development of parent-child bonds, establishing social, emotional and cognitive developmental achievements that assist them in relating with others, and managing stress.

Although no formal education exists during recess, sociologists and psychologists consider recess an integral portion of child development, to teach them the importance of social skills and physical education. Play is essential for children to develop not only their physical abilities, but also their intellectual, social, and moral capabilities.[2] Via play, children can learn about the world around them. Some of the known benefits of recess are that students are more on task during academic activities, have improved memory, are more focused, develop a greater number of neural connections, learn how to negotiate, find ways to demonstrate leadership, are able to teach their own games, learn to take turns, learn how to negotiate conflicts, and that it leads to more physical activity outside of the school setting.[3] Psychomotor learning also gives children clues on how the world around them works as they can physically demonstrate such skills. Children need the freedom to play to learn skills necessary to become competent adults such as coping with stress and problem solving.[4] Through the means of caregiver's observations of children’s play, one can identify deficiencies in children’s development.[5] While there are many types of play children engage in that all contribute to development, it has been emphasized that “free, spontaneous play—the kind that occurs on playgrounds—is the most beneficial type of play.”[6]

Recess at its core is a social experience for children and as such, plays a significant part in the development of language. Children’s intentionality with language during recess is tied closely to navigating the social landscape of the playground. Even as early as preschool, children use language to make group decisions and establish authority or a standing in the social setting of the playground. One researcher states that children use language to “invoke play ideas as their own possessions to manage and control the unfolding play,”[7] which engages a bidding war for group leadership. When viewing recess through a language perspective, the individual experience of the playground can vary depending on a willingness to follow other’s ideas, and the development of language to modify play as it unfolds.

Depending on the weather, recess may be held indoors, allowing the students to finish work, play board games or other activities that take more than one to play; this helps encourage group activity and some of the games are also educational. Or, they might play educational computer games or read books. It also may contribute to do something non-educational, to help unwind and de-stress from the daily workload.

Data suggests that students who lack opportunities for play do not grow into happy, well-adjusted adults,[8] and, although schools are now focusing their attention on the test scores while eliminating recess/physical education, studies show that break and/or P.E. actually increase test scores as the students produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in memory and problem-solving.[4] Even though studies have proven that recess has many benefits for the pupils, especially those in elementary school, almost 40% of the US school districts have either decreased the amount of time for recess, gotten rid of it entirely or are considering to do so.[9]

The National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends unstructured physical play as a developmentally crucial means of decreasing stress. More importantly, research shows that increased levels of stress impairs learning and health. This data coupled with research that suggests that recess can help develop the social skills in children is alarming a growing number of parents, educators, and psychologists, because the amount of time for recess is decreasing. They worry that the children will not have the proper chance to play.[10] Instead, young students are bogged down with test preparation, homework requirements, and demanding out-of-school schedules. The demands placed on youth reduces the amount of time allotted to them to play and exercise. In addition, negative health issues have been associated with children that do not receive the proper amount of exercise and play. For this reason, researchers have been grappling with the problem of incorporating more play time in school. Research shows that 30% of the school day is taken up by routine classroom management activities, such as, lining up, or putting materials away. In turn, the class room management time may take crucial time away from recess. This lack of free and undirected play during recess may contribute to the rise in childhood obesity, anxiety and depression among children, as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.[11]

Childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes are also a major concern as the United States youth do not get the physical outlet needed not only for their cognitive development but for their physical health.[12] Research has shown that 60 minutes of physical activity a day can cumulatively play a valuable role in the prevention and treatment of childhood obesity.[13] Only about half of America’s youth meet the current evidence-based guideline of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department of at least 60 minutes of vigorous or moderate-intensity physical activity daily.[14]

Another important aspect of recess to consider is what time of day it should be implemented. Research suggests that having recess before lunch can improve the nutrition and behavior of elementary students. The traditional placement of lunch before recess, coupled with the recent decline in overall recess time, forces children to make a decision between food and exercise. For this reason, the Recess Before Lunch (RBL) movement was founded in 2002. RBL was established and organized in the Montana Office of Public Instruction when a health team started a year-long pilot to study four schools that decided to make the switch. The results from the study show that the students had increased hunger after recess and therefore, ate more food for lunch. In addition, there were other benefits, such as improved behavior in the classroom. Following the study, RBL began to spread their findings to administrators statewide, and by 2003, they had published, "Recess Before Lunch: A Guide for Success." By 2011, almost 40% of Montana's elementary schools implemented recess before lunch.[15]

International recess

In the United Kingdom and Ireland, high school students traditionally do not have 'free periods' but do have 'break' which normally occurs just after their second lesson of the day (normally referred to as second period). This generally lasts for around 20 minutes. During break, snacks are sometimes sold in the school's canteen and students normally use this time to socialize or finish off any homework or schoolwork that needs to be finished. Once break is finished, students go to their next classroom. Lunchtime commences one or two lessons later and usually lasts around 45–60 minutes. This system is more or less the same in junior schools in the UK and Ireland, but infant schools will normally add another break time towards the end of the day. In the UK recess or a break is mandatory at all levels of education. A European study has reported that children spend between 30–105 minutes of recess per day in European schools.[16] Other research has found that when compared to British children, American children played games or other high-level activities (such as chasing) more frequently, which has been attributed to the more frequent recess breaks in Britain.[17]

In Australia, New Zealand, and Canada "recess" is generally a break between morning and mid-morning classes. It is followed after mid-morning classes by a more lengthy break, lunchtime. Thus, the structure of the school-day consists of three lesson blocks, broken up by two intervals: recess and lunch respectively.There must be at least an hours worth of "recess" or "free period" a week. In Queensland, the short morning break is generally referred to as "first break" and the longer lunchtime break as "second break", it may vary between trends at different schools, but is generally the same.

The difference in the overall length of US and Japanese school days is due almost entirely to the increased amount of time Japanese school children spend in recess.[18] The average school day in Japan is eight hours but the time in the classroom is no different compared to the U.S. but the time spent out of the classroom is what makes the day longer. A fourth of the day is spent in non-academic activities. A typical day contains the same amount of instructional time as the kids in the U.S. but a long enough lunch break to go home and eat with their family. This gives the students time to soak in their morning lesson and prepare for the afternoon session. Students who do not go home, read for their pleasure or interact with other students. When the school day is over the majority of the students do not go home, but rather stay after school for clubs and other activities. The benefits of having a longer break and several non-academic clubs after school, is that the students interact with one another and tend to have fewer physical symptoms related to stress, as well as better relationships with their classmates.[19]

Some schools in Beijing, China allow children to spend an hour or two to socialize or to step out of the classroom per day. Some schools do not have a dedicated recess period, instead allowing a ten-minute break per class session. For lunch, students either pack or buy from the school's lunch area. After lunch time there is a quiet period. During this period, children may read at their desks or play by themselves. Meanwhile, a few students are chosen to help clean up from lunch, which may be perceived as a coveted assignment. Schools implementing a no-recess policy may not even have a playground, while schools allowing recess may have multiple playgrounds or basketball courts.[20]

Finland students rank near the top in terms of academic testing and knowledge, and there students receive over an hour of recess everyday, regardless of the weather. Finland schools consider recess to be an essential part of the school day, and this element of their curriculum is attracting international attention. Finland has utilized research from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences into their curriculum that suggest a positive correlation between exercise and academic performance.[21]

In Wales, pupils are expected to do only one hour of PE per fourteen days.[22]

United States

In North America, the point where recess ends in a child's education is largely dependent on the school district, though by many standards it is removed when the child enters middle school. However, in college, students usually have free periods, which are similar in spirit, although usually one studies or talks with one's friends during such times rather than playing games, which are made difficult by the lack of a playground.

The variety of play seen on recess is often dependent on the availability of playground equipment and facilities. Growing markets for childhood toys in the 19th century led to the availability for equipment to be used in organized sports, particularly ball related games such as baseball. In the 20th century, under the New Deal's Works Progress Administration, thousands of local playgrounds and sporting fields were built nationwide.[23]

With the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, many schools have significantly cut back on the amount of recess time for children, even in preschool. The Center on Educational Policy reports an average loss of “50 minutes per week” in recess time across America in the NCLB era.[24] Some have even eliminated recess all together. With the focus now on preparing the children for testing into the next grade, there is less time to incorporate physical education or recess into the curriculum.[4] However, with pressure from NCLB for more instructional time, reduced recess time may in fact be “counterproductive to academic achievement” in that it deprives children of learning they do not always get in a classroom.[25] Current policymakers and local administrators face important decisions when deciding how best allocate time for students during the short school day.

Common recess activities

Recess is a common part of the school day for children around the world, but it has not received much attention from scholars. The research that has been conducted occurred mostly in the United States and the UK.[26] Of the fifty states in the United States, only fifteen have policies that recommend or require daily recess or a physical activity break, and one (Oklahoma) has no policy, but it is recommended by the State Board of Education.[27]

Certain activities have emerged as playground favorites, including: jump rope, Chinese jump rope, four square, hop scotch, basketball, soccer, hula hoops, chase, wall ball, and playing on the playground equipment.[28] These activities have been classified into chase games, ball games, and jumping/verbal games.[29] Other categories to consider would be general play and equipment related play.

Further information on games, directions, and ideas, can be found online.[30]

Games and play both occur on playgrounds, so it is important to differentiate between the two when discussing activities in which children engage at recess. One way to view their uniqueness is to look at the function of their rules. Games, such as basketball, have concrete rules that result in penalties when broken. Play rules, on the other hand, are flexible and can change at the discretion of the players.[29] There are times though when kids will bend the concrete rules of some games to make new versions of these games that may or may not be remembered in future times of play.

Recess activities run the gamut from simple to complex. Children’s gender and age affects their recess recreation choices. B[29] The youngest children in elementary schools (kindergarten through second grade) prefer the simplest activities such as chase, kickball, jump rope, and unstructured games. As the school year progresses, it has been observed that chase games diminish and ball games increase.[29] By the time children are in upper elementary school (grades three through five), they prefer sports and social sedentary behavior like talking.[26] The relationship between the complexity of the activity, the age and gender of its participants, and social competence is an area of continued interest for researchers.[29] There is also interest regarding recess and playground behavior in relation to academic achievement.

Restricted Playground Games and Equipment

In the recent years schools have begun restricting many favorite past time games such as: red rover, tag, tag-football, not-it, Dodge Ball and many others. Many schools have made the choice to restrict contact games and equipment used on playgrounds that may possibly cause injury to students.[31] In some schools across the country have decided to replace hard material balls; such as footballs, soccer balls, and basketballs with a softer material like sponge to prevent injuries caused by the impact of the moving object. Along with restricting games and equipment other physical activities such as cart wheels are no longer allowed without supervision of a physical education instructor.[32] In recent years states have adopted new state regulations of playground safety. Most states that have adopted these regulations require that the schools comply with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission which guidelines state what type of equipment is safe for each age group[33] (see for full guidelines. Due to the schools needing to comply with these regulations certain equipment such as the Merry-Go-Round have been removed from the playgrounds, although equipment such as the Merry-Go-Round is acceptable for older age groups they are still being removed due to the various age groups using the playground which then makes the Merry Go Rounds and other equipment not acceptable for the age use.[33] Although the restrictions and guidelines for playground use are fairly new, the issue for playground safety and schools liability has always been a concern for many schools all over the country for years. School staff and other faculty are protected and some only to an extent by the Tort Law (see but due to recent lawsuits schools have chosen to take more precautions to avoid lawsuits concerning playground safety. Like the, NORMAN v. TURKEY RUN COMMUNITY SCH. CORP., a lawsuit brought against the school for what the parents felt was not proper supervision on the playground at time of the accident but the courts were in favor of the school.[34] Also ROLLINS v. CONCORDIA PARISH SCHOOL BOARD, another case involving student supervision during recess but in this case the court found that the supervision was inadequate.[35] Court cases these have caused the schools to take extra precautionary measures and cover anything that could possibly cause injury to the students to avoid liability issues. So now many schools will have updated their guidelines in hopes to prevent any injuries, here is an example of what this school’s guidelines are like ( Parents and professionals who studied human behavior have another concern with schools restricting recess games and equipment on playgrounds. Many parents are concerned that school is going overboard in trying to prevent injuries and that the schools are not allowing children to play and enjoy many favorite pastimes.[31] Although the lawsuits that many schools are trying to avoid are brought against them by the parents of the children attending their schools there is another legal avenue that the schools are faced with and that is a petition by the parents to overturn the decisions of restricting recess games.[36] The other concern by professionals who study human behaviors are concerned that restricting certain games will not allow the children to learn certain boundaries, coordination skills, and other human behaviors that we as humans learn socially, then there is the concern of obesity and how restricting running will have an effect on children if they’re not allowed these activities.[37]

Parliamentary procedure

In parliamentary procedure, a recess refers to a short intermission in a meeting of a deliberative assembly. The members may leave the meeting room, but are expected to remain nearby. A recess may be simply to allow a break (e.g. for lunch) or it may be related to the meeting (e.g. to allow time for vote-counting).

Motion to Recess
Class Privileged motion
In order when another has the floor? No
Requires second? Yes
Debatable? No
May be reconsidered? No
Amendable? Yes
Vote required Majority

Sometimes the line between a recess and an adjournment can be fine.[38] A break for lunch can be more in the nature of a recess or an adjournment depending on the time and the extent of dispersion of the members required for them to be served.[38] But at the resumption of business after a recess, there are never any "opening" proceedings such as reading of minutes; business picks up right where it left off.[38] The distinction of whether the assembly recesses or adjourns has implications related to the admissibility of a motion to reconsider and enter on the minutes and the renewability of the motion to suspend the rules.[38]

Under Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, a motion to recess may not be called when another person has the floor, is not reconsiderable, and requires a second and a majority vote.[39] When adopted, it has immediate effect.

If made when business is pending, it is an undebatable, privileged motion.[39] It can be modified only by amendment of the length of the break.[39]

Stand at ease

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Breaks (time).

Stand at ease is a brief pause without a recess in which the members remain in place but may converse while waiting for the meeting to resume.[40]

United States Congress

In the United States Congress, a recess could mean a temporary interruption or it could mean a longer break, such as one for the holidays or for the summer.[41][42]


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  6. Playground#Funding
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  22. Physical education#cite note-20
  23. Play (activity)#History of childhood playtime
  24. McMurrer, Jennifer. "Choices, Changes, and Challenges Curriculum and Instruction in the NCLB Era". Center on Educational Policy. Retrieved 2014-03-10.
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