First-Of-Its-Kind Gallup Poll Links Recess To Academic Achievement

Principals say recess has a positive impact on learning; students are more focused, listen better after recess

    • February 3, 2010

When most people talk about how to improve education, they tend to focus only on what happens in the classroom. But a new Gallup poll of elementary school principals suggests that the most unexpected opportunity to boost learning may exist outside on the playground at recess.

The first-of its-kind survey of almost 2,000 principals nationwide, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, National Association of Elementary School Principals and Playworks, revealed enthusiastic support for recess among principals, who see it benefiting kids both in the classroom and in life.

Key findings from the survey include:
• Four out of five principals report that recess has a positive impact on academic achievement.
• Two-thirds of principals report that students listen better after recess and are more focused in class.
• Virtually all believe that recess has a positive impact on children’s social development (96 percent) and general well-being (97 percent).

“This research sends a clear message to anyone interested in improving education or the overall well-being of America’s children: it’s time to take recess seriously,” said Jane Lowe, team director for the Vulnerable Populations Portfolio at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Recess should no longer be treated as an afterthought but as a core part of any strategy for promoting learning and improving health.”

Recess has traditionally served as the one outlet during the school day when children can recharge their bodies and minds. But those minutes have been steadily eroding. A 2005 study found that the average American student only participates in 22 minutes of recess a day.

And according to the Gallup poll, one in five principals report cutting recess minutes to meet testing requirements. Still, this research shows that even a little recess can have a big impact on the school day.

“Principals know that students’ academic development is inextricably connected to their physical, social, and emotional well-being, and they support recess as a crucial element of learning that sustains the whole child,” said NAESP Executive Director Gail Connelly. “As primary catalysts for creating lasting foundations for learning, principals are key in determining and nurturing what works for children in schools — in both the classroom and on the playground.”

Recess doesn’t come without challenges. Because it is often disorganized and difficult to manage, recess is the time when principals encounter the vast majority of their school’s disciplinary problems.

“Recess offers an extraordinary opportunity to improve a school’s climate,” said Jill Vialet, founder and president of Playworks, a national nonprofit and grantee of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that helps schools improve their recess. “Just a little bit of training for staff can go a long way in helping schools dramatically reduce disciplinary problems at recess and direct more attention to teaching and learning.”

The poll echoes findings from a growing body of clinical research, including a study by Dr. Romina Barros, a professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Her groundbreaking study, published in the February 2009 issue of the journal Pediatrics, found that children who have more recess time behave better in the classroom and are more likely to learn.

“Just as adults need breaks as they go about their workday, children need time during the school day to run around,” said Dr. Barros. “As we continue to make improvements to our education system, it’s critical that we factor in this mounting evidence that recess plays an essential role in children’s learning and development.”

The poll is the first national, scientific survey of principals on the subject of recess. The research was conducted October 8-19, 2009, through an online survey fielded by The Gallup Organization with 1,951 principals and deputy, vice or assistant principals across the country. The survey sample was provided by NAESP and was weighted to reflect a balance of urban, suburban and rural schools, as well as schools of various income levels, defined by the percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunch (FARL).

For more information or to receive an executive summary of the poll’s findings, contact Jenny Park.


About The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 35 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime.

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