Strengthening recess transforms the school climate, paving the way for less bullying and more focus on learning, according to new evaluation findings from Mathematica Policy Research and Stanford University. The randomized controlled trial measured the effects of Playworks, a national nonprofit that is currently working with schools in 23 cities nationwide to provide a safe, healthy recess and other playtime.

Researchers compared schools that had adopted Playworks to a control group of similar schools waiting to implement the program during the 2010–2011 school year in five cities across the country. Positive effects stemming from the Playworks program included:

  • Less bullying. Teachers in Playworks schools reported less bullying and exclusionary behavior during recess than teachers in control schools.
  • Better recess behavior and readiness for class. Teachers at Playworks schools tended to report better student behavior at recess and readiness for class.
  • More time for teaching. Teachers in Playworks schools reported having fewer difficulties and spending significantly less time transitioning to learning activities after recess than teachers in control schools. Playworks students also were more likely than control students to report better behavior and attention in class after sports, games, and play.
  • Safer schools. Teachers in Playworks schools perceived that students felt safer and more included at recess.
  • Satisfied teachers. Nearly 100 percent of teachers in Playworks schools reported that they wanted the program in their school again the following year.

Nancy Barrand, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s special advisor for program development, said, “This research confirms what we have seen as schools across the nation partner with Playworks to provide kids with healthy play every day. These new findings, taken together with existing data, tell us that kids better relate with one another, resolve conflicts constructively, get plenty of physical activity on the playground, and return to class more focused and ready to learn.”

This study collected data from students, teachers, and school staff to document the implementation of Playworks and assess the impact of the program on key outcomes in six domains: school climate, conflict resolution and aggression, learning and academic performance, recess experience, youth development, and student behavior. It adds to a growing body of evidence that a safe, healthy recess environment is a key driver of better behavior and learning.