Playing Fair: The Contribution of High-Functioning Recess to Overall School Climate in Low-Income Elementary Schools

A teacher cheers students on during a tug-of-war competition

Among six elementary schools in the San Francisco Bay Area implementing Playworks, high-functioning recess contributed to an improved school climate.

The Issue:

Recess plays an important role in the elementary school day, contributing to physical activity among children, as well as improved student outcomes, including attendance and achievement. This study examines how implementation of a recess-based program impacts school climate.


Key Findings

  • Recess improved in all schools. Of the study’s six schools, four achieved a higher-functioning recess.

  • Schools with the best-functioning recess included appropriate games, space, and equipment available to students, as well as adult support of students’ development of pro-social skills.

  • Teachers who received training about Playworks earlier in the year embraced the program more fully than those trained later or not at all.


This study suggests that a high-functioning recess contributes to an improved school climate. A limitation of this study is the nonrandom and small-sample of schools in one geographic area. However, the study indicated that notable change can take place in a short time frame of one school year, highlighting the important role recess can play.

About the Study:

The researchers collected multiple types of qualitative data from six San Francisco Bay Area schools during the 2009-2010 school year. These schools were implementing Playworks, a recess program in low-income elementary schools with the goal of improving recess through increased opportunities for safe, meaningful play and physical activity.


Improving the health and well-being of children through safe, meaningful play.

Learn more