The Results Are In, The Message Is Clear

What do you remember from your elementary school days on the playground? Perhaps innocent games of hopscotch or freeze tag, climbing on the monkey bars, or tapping into your imagination to see where the afternoon would take you? These memories stay with us for a lifetime, yet some students today will be unaware of these pastimes due to certain school districts that are reducing or taking away recess.

Play shouldn’t be seen as an extracurricular, or even an option. Rather, it’s an essential tool in every child’s development. Research shows that outdoor free play gives kids many valuable benefits, including the development of physical, emotional, social, and cognitive skills.

And teachers agree.

The International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association’s (IPEMA) Voice of Play initiative promotes growth in the quality and quantity of children’s free play and the use of playgrounds. This year, 500 teachers from across the U.S. were surveyed online by Wakefield Research to discover their attitudes on recess and its benefits. The result? Teachers want recess! In fact, each teacher surveyed—100 percent—agreed that recess is essential for young students’ mental and physical development.

Why The Debate Over Recess?
Because of the emphasis over the past few years on standardized testing, many school districts across the country have cut back on or cut recess altogether, so there would be more time in the classroom to study for these mandated tests. According to a 2007 article in TIME, the Center on Education Policy at George Washington University found that 62 percent of school districts had increased the amount of time spent on language arts or math in elementary schools since 2001, and that 20 percent of districts had reduced recess time. Another alarming stat was that, according to the 2016 Shape of the Nation report, only 16 percent of states require elementary schools to provide daily recess.

In spite of all this, there have been many school districts across the country reevaluating recess and putting it back on the schedule, as more parents, educators, and health experts have become vocal about the importance of recess. Play was even part of this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting when the Real Play Coalition was announced by the LEGO Foundation, Unilever, IKEA Group, and National Geographic Society. This movement prioritizes the importance of play, and will facilitate opportunities for children to grow and learn through play.

Examining The Data
With this research, the hope is to affect positive reform to prioritize recess within the American education system, especially for those who are still not making recess a priority. Here are some of the top findings:

The preferred way to play is in the outdoors, unstructured, and on a playground.


The survey found that, at schools where recess is offered, the average length is 25 minutes per day. This is good news, as 20 minutes is the recommended time from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ninety-three percent of teachers said their school currently offers recess, and 87 percent said recess is primarily located outdoors, on a playground. And about half said children do not have structured recess (meaning they participate in activities chosen by the teacher or other school faculty).

“Outdoor, unstructured play on a playground is one of the most fun, healthy things for kids,” said Tom Norquist, president of the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association. “Fortunately, there is a wide variety of fun and exciting play equipment that can be configured to challenge and motivate children of varied ages and abilities. This exciting development proves teachers are aligned with the National Institute for Play’s scientific evidence of the developmental benefits of a playful recess for school children.”

Teachers say recess is essential for kids’ mental and physical development.
Seventy-eight percent of teachers surveyed said their students are focused and ready for their next lesson when they return from recess; their behavior also changes for the better, including more positive moods, longer attention spans, fewer behavior issues, increased eagerness to learn, and improved academic performance. And 95 percent agree that recess improves their students’ social interactions.

From Recess To Parks (And Back)
Consistency is key when it comes to play. Starting with a daily foundation of outdoor free play at school is a great way to get kids in the habit of going to different parks in their communities to keep up the fun on another playground! After all, one hour of play a day is best, so the 25 minutes or so at school is a great start and can be finished up after school at a park with their families, creating a routine and connection. Families that spend time at play receive mental and physical health benefits, according to life coach Susan Biali. This time also allows kids and parents to disconnect by stepping away from their digital devices.

One thing that parks and recreation professionals can do is to make sure their communities know about the benefits of play. Here are just some:

1.       Physical
When kids are playing, they are learning reflexes and movement control, developing fine and gross motor skills, and increasing flexibility and balancing skills. On top of that, when kids are involved in physical activity, they’re building stronger muscles and improving bone density, heart and lung function, and preventing obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

2.       Emotional
Free play has an important role in a child’s emotional growth, and research has pointed to three areas where play helps children develop emotionally: building self-confidence and esteem; experimenting with various emotions; and releasing emotions from trauma.

3.       Social
One of the primary reasons that kids look forward to play is because it gives them a chance to visit with friends, meet new kids, and play fun and imaginary games that they might not be able to play at home. Social-skills development plays a vital role in a child’s maturation process. While kids are merely playing and having fun, little do they know that the lessons they learn on the playground will provide a foundation to grow into socially adjusted, well-adapted adults.

A wide variety of experts agree that play is essential for a child’s brain development. Studies have shown that free play affects neurological development and determines how the neural circuits of the brain are wired. In other words, free play affects a child’s confidence, intelligence, and ability to articulate.

When kids play, everyone wins. With these data, we can continue to stress the importance of recess and play, and emphasize that it all begins on the playground. We can only hope our kids today have these precious memories like we did, to last a lifetime.

The International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association is a non-profit, membership, trade association that represents and promotes an open market for manufacturers of playground equipment and surfacing. IPEMA’s Voice of Play initiative promotes the benefits of children’s play and playgrounds by providing information and resources to encourage the quality and quantity of children’s play and the use of playgrounds.

Visit to view the 2018 recess survey.