The State of Play

We know that health begins long before illness strikes. It starts where people live, work, learn and play. One of the best ways to influence the health and well-being of children is in the schoolyard at recess.

A growing body of research shows that play is essential to the physical, social and emotional development of kids. But recess tends to be an afterthought when it comes to education policy, and we’ve even seen recess minutes steadily decline as a result.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation decided to ask elementary school principals what they thought about recess and its value to the school day. RWJF commissioned a first-of-its-kind Gallup poll of 1,951 principals in partnership with the National Association of Elementary School Principals and Playworks, a Vulnerable Populations grantee.

Overwhelmingly, principals reported that recess has a strong positive impact on academic achievement. Students listened better and were more focused after recess. And principals widely agreed that recess positively impacts social development and well-being.

But principals also issued a plea for help. Recess is a difficult time of day to manage, and as a result disciplinary issues arise which are counterproductive for learning. As we have seen first hand with Playworks, the good news is that even a small investment in recess can have an outsized benefit to students’ learning and well-being.

It is time for us to take play seriously as an opportunity to improve health and academic achievement. With proper staffing and training, elementary schools will see the return on recess in the classroom and beyond.


Playworks is using recess to make a better school day, improving the health and well-being of children through safe, meaningful play.

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