Recess rocks 

Smyth and Nash Elementary School teachers discuss the benefits of recess

May 18, 2010

Taking 20 minutes out of a regular school day to let students exercise, socialize, and rest, may seem like a classroom disruption, but it’s an added benefit to students both socially and academically. Just ask the teachers and administrators at Smyth and Nash Elementary Schools.



For the past four years, Smyth, 1059 W 13th Street, has been incorporating recess as part into curriculum and the students are reaping the benefits.


Recess allows students to participate in physical activity during the school day. In addition to the academic benefits of recess, Smyth administrators have also noticed behavioral, cognitive and social improvements amongst its students. “Health impacts the body as well as the mind,” said Principal Ronald Whitmore. “It is important for us to incorporate physical activity into our school day.”


Smyth teacher, Monique Hall said that unstructured play is important for the social development of her kindergarten students. Recess gives her 25 students the chance to move, stretch and socialize outside of the structure maintained within the classroom. The unorganized play allows her students to express themselves in different ways.


Students also speak positively about recess during their school day. “Recess gives us time to relax from doing work and lets our minds rest for a little while,” an eighth grade student commented.


Incorporating recess into the school day can increase the concentration levels of students and reduce discipline issues, allowing teachers more time and freedom to engage in high quality instruction. “Recess not only provides students with an opportunity to burn off steam, it also has had positive effects on instruction,” noted Principal Whitmore.



“Two years ago, teachers became concerned that their students had no breaks in their day,” said Latrese Mathis, Assistant Principal at Nash, 4837 W. Erie St.


So a group of teachers and administrators put their thinking caps on and began researching the concept of recess. Students were missing out on the key benefits of recess: increased ability to learn, conflict resolution, social skills, and health and fitness benefits.


It was these benefits that made it easy for teachers and school administrators to come to a consensus—Nash students needed recess. Teachers then drafted a recess proposal that was approved by the teachers at Nash and then the Local School Council.


Now in its second year, all K-8 students have a 20-minute recess every day either before or after lunch. Students play in the playground and each age group has an assigned area. “Physical education teachers pull together a recess bin for each classroom,” Mathis said. “It works great, the children are responsible for taking the bins out, collecting jump ropes and footballs and putting them back in the classroom.”


Mathis said the timing of recess does not increase the length of the school day, interfere with teacher breaks or cut down on academics.


And what about the weather? CPS policy states that outdoor recess is not to be held on days when the temperature is below 40 degrees, and school administrations use discretion to determine if weather conditions permit students to go outdoors for recess on any given day. “They’re usually outside for recess unless there’s inclement weather…then they take their break in the classroom,” Mathis said.


The assistant principal also noted that the school hasn’t experienced any problems with students before or after recess. “The students are excited to participate in recess and therefore, are very cooperative,” Mathis said. “We have noticed that the transition to learning is seamless directly after recess.


CPS is encouraging schools who aren’t already incorporating recess into their daily schedules to follow Smyth and Nash’s lead. The district is committed to children’s health and recognizes the critical role that schools can play in fostering lifelong habits of healthy eating and sustained physical activity. Providing opportunities for physical activity during the day increases the likelihood of in-class success among school children.


We want to hear from you. What are your thoughts about recess? Should all elementary schools adopt a recess concept similar to Smyth? Why or why not? Share your ideas.


Meet Smyth Elementary School.


Learn more about Nash Elementary School.