The Importance of Recess – PediaCast 383

Show Notes


  • Michelle Carter, Senior Program Manager for SHAPE America, joins Dr Mike in the PediaCast studio to talk about the importance of recess! We consider health, development and academic benefits of recess, along with evidence-based recommendations for recess implementation. Many schools lack an effective recess policy, and we’ll have ideas for schools, parents and providers on making a difference for kids in your community. We hope you can join us!


  • Recess
  • School
  • Physical Education
  • Gym Class
  • SHAPE America





Announcer 1:  This is PediaCast.


Announcer 2:  Welcome to PediaCast, a pediatric podcast for parents. And now, direct from the campus of Nationwide Children's, here is your host, Dr. Mike.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Hello everyone, and welcome once again to PediaCast. It's a pediatric podcast for moms and dads. This is Dr. Mike, coming to you from the campus of Nationwide Children's Hospital. We're in Columbus, Ohio.  

It is Episode 383 for August 16th, 2017. We're calling this one "The Importance of Recess". I want to welcome you to the program.  

So, the beginning of a brand new school year is upon us with some kids starting back as early as this week and millions more kids will be following in their footsteps over the next two to three weeks. So I thought it would be a good idea to include a back-to-school sort of show in our August line-up. 

Now, you may be thinking, "Okay, recess, certainly, it's a back-to-school topic. But can you really fill an entire show talking about recess?" I mean, how difficult is this? Elementary schools have playgrounds, kids have recess. They go outside, they play. They come back in. What more is there to say?

Well, it turns out, there is a lot more to say about recess. First, it's not just elementary school kids who need it. All children and teenagers from kindergarten all the way up to high school seniors really need a daily period of physical activity. I mean, adults need that, too. And for the students, they need that time outside of their physical education or gym class experience. 

And we have evidence showing that this period of activity, which you can call recess — or maybe come up with the different name for it for the older students — this daily period of activity outside of gym class positively impacts health development and academic work.


Now, unfortunately many schools beginning around the sixth grade or so, eliminate recess which can result in more behavioral problems, discipline issues and academic difficulties. And even though the vast majority of elementary schools do offer their students recess, many of these elementary schools are not intentional with their recess time. And by not implementing best practice recommendations for recess, they're weakening the impact that this daily activity can have. 

And same is true for middle school and high schools that maybe they do have recess or have some other name for it. But if they're not intentional and really follow best practice recommendations, it may not be really as worthwhile of the period as it otherwise could be. 

Now, you may be asking who is it that comes up with recess recommendations and are these recommendations evidence-based? And I know  you're asking these questions because the PediaCast audience, in particular, is a scientifically savvy group of listeners. And the answers are yes, recommendations are based in scientific evidence. Otherwise, we probably wouldn't be covering it today.

And the folks looking at the evidence and providing schools with ideas and support is the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the largest group of health teachers and physical education professionals in the United States. It's a group known as SHAPE America. Now, these two organizations have collaborated on recess research — try saying that five times fast — and they have some really great ideas and resources for local schools. 

So, the next question becomes, what about your local school? Does your school have a recess policy? Are they implementing the 19 evidence-based recommendation for recess and are they doing for all grade levels, kindergarten through 12? Maybe not. As a parent, you have a right to know and you can make a difference at the local level if improvements are needed.   


My guest today is the senior program manager for SHAPE America, Michelle Carter. And she'll be joining us to talk about recess in a couple of minutes including the many health development and academic benefits of recess, the 19 evidence-based recommendations, a report card on how American schools are performing when it comes to recess, and some ideas of how you can help as parents and pediatric providers — how you can help improve the recess experience for students in your community.

So, there you go, much more involved than saying, "Hey kids, go outside and play on the swings and slide the monkey bars." We have to be intentional about recess and our goal today is to discuss why and how.

So, stick around, we'll get Michelle Carter connected to the studio. Before we get to her, I would like to remind you that if you have a topic that you'd like us to talk about or you have a question for me or you want to point us in the direction of a news article or a journal article, really easy to get in touch. Just head over to and click on the Contact link. I do read each and every one of those that come through and will to try get your comments or your suggestion, topic ideas on the program. 

Also, I want to remind you, the information that presented in every episode of PediaCast is for general educational purposes only. We do not diagnose medical conditions or formulate treatment plans for specific individuals. So if you have a concern about your child's health, be sure to call your doctor and arrange a face-to-face interview and hands-on physical examination. 


Also, your use of this audio program is subject to the PediaCast Terms of Use Agreement, which you can find at Let's take a quick break. We'll get connected with Michelle Carter, Senior Program Manager for SHAPE America,  and talk more about the importance of recess. That's coming up right after this. 


Dr. Mike Patrick: Michelle Carter joins us today. She is the senior program manager for SHAPE America, the Society of Health and Physical Educators, which is the largest membership organization of health and physical education professionals in the United States. The organization has been around since 1885 and has been instrumental in launching many national programs including the Presidential Youth Fitness Program, Let's Move! Active Schools, and Jump Rope and Hoops for Heart. 

SHAPE America has also collaborated with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the formulation of evidence-based recommendations for school recess. 

That's what she's here to talk about the importance of recess. So, let's give a warm PediaCast welcome to Michelle Carter. Thanks for being here today.

Michelle Carter: Thank you for having me. I'm excited to talk about recess.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, we really appreciate you taking time to enlighten all of us. Let's start with just what really qualifies as a recess?

Michelle Carter: So, recess is any regularly scheduled period within the school day for physical activity and in play that is monitored by trained staff or volunteer. So, it's any scheduled time children have the option to self-select activities. And it's during the school day.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah. So, there are some components to this to qualify for recess. It really needs to be something that is regularly scheduled where the kids are active with their peers, but they can sort of pick what activity that they're going to do.

Michelle Carter: Absolutely. So, the key here is the point of being somewhat unstructured, so that they have the freedom to choose. So providing different activities, different options for self-selection that children and students can participate in. It's important that they're being able to choose.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah. And I think, so there really is sort of some structure but they get their choice of which structure they want to partake in, so to speak. It's not necessarily just a free for all, correct?

Michelle Carter: Not necessarily a free for all, no. So kind of getting into those strategies that you had mentioned before, there is certain way that you can set up recess that can enhance physical activity for students. So that students participate in physical activity the way that you set it up, what activities that you provide and such. But yes, the key is that they're being able to choose what they want in a safe environment with adult supervision.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah. And this is different in gym class then or physical education, because with gym or Phys Ed, there really is more structure, and "Hey, this is what everybody is going to do right now."

Michelle Carter: Absolutely. So, physical education is like any other school subject. It has national standards and outcomes. And usually, even down to the state level, each state usually has their own set of standards related to physical education. So there are objectives and there are specific skills that are being taught and there's scope and sequence. 

Well, while recess is less structured. There isn't specific lesson that are being designed around recess. But it is more so of an opportunity for physical activity within the school day. But the great thing about recess is the chance for students to extend their learning from physical education class into recess. So, if there's something being taught in PE, they can practice that in recess.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah. And it's really important that school have both of these, right? Because sometimes you hear folks saying, "Well, they don't need recess because they have Physical Education." Or some parents may say, "Do they really need Physical Education if they're out running around and being active during recess." But each really serves a distinct purpose. And you need both of those, right?

Michelle Carter: Absolutely. You said it perfectly. Right, recess is more about just being able to move and then PE is about what we call physical literacy. Teaching children how to move, have the skills, the confidence and knowledge to be physically active. So, that's really the key difference there between the two. And you can't do one without the other. We would never want to get rid of PE or replace PE with recess for, sure.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Kind of tick through with us why recess is important. What are some of the benefits of recess other than just extending what you're doing in Phys Ed class? There are really some definite advantages and benefits that you get from even the health standpoint, right? 

Michelle Carter: Oh, Absolutely. Recess is just really important to a child's normal growth and development in improving social skills and behavior. That would include cooperating, following rules, problem solving, some of those things that gets to happen organically to kids just playing with one another. 

It also improves classroom engagement. So, after recess, students come back to their classroom and they're ready to learn. They can focus better, they pay better attention after being physically active. And there's less discipline issues. And it also can positively improve academic performance as well, in terms of memory. Again, as I mentioned, retention span with that. 

So, there some other benefits that kind of extend beyond "the playground" into the classroom.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. I know there was back in 2015, passed by Congress and signed into law, the Every Student Succeeds Act. And it wants all schools to provide a well-rounded educational experience for their students. And certainly, recess can be a part, as you'd mentioned, in terms of developing social skills and behaviors and improving classroom engagement when recesses is part of the school day, that students remain on task and those fewer disciplinary issues that you mentioned, improved retention and memory. I mean, all of those things really even go into a good academic program.

Michelle Carter: Absolutely. For the first time, health and physical education have been included in what's now being called a well-rounded education. And it's exactly right. It's a part of improving that school culture. Kids are focused already. It's just really hard to expect the student to sit for hours without any kind of movement or physical activity. So it's really just extends into that culture within the school.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. And then, in addition to the academic benefit as a pediatrician, there's health benefit to getting outside or inclement weather. And we'll talk about strategies and indoor stuff, too. But just really having a time during the day in addition to Phys Ed when you can contribute to getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity during the day. 

And we know that that increase in activity has all sorts of health benefits in terms of lowering lipids and reducing obesity, improving blood pressure, glucose intolerance and insulin resistance and the Type II diabetes pictures that we're seeing more and more in teenagers and in younger kids as well. 

So, really, it's good for the body to move, right?



Michelle Carter: Absolutely. Yes, yes, it is good for the body to move.

Dr. Mike Patrick: So, I had mentioned in the intro that the SHAPE America organization and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention really collaborated to develop recess recommendations. Tell us about that, how you guys work together?

Michelle Carter: So SHAPE America and CDC, they developed 19 evidence-based strategies. And what they did is they conducted an environmental scan of available recess resources. So guides, manuals, and toolkits and existing literature reviews. And based on this, they came up with a 19 promising practices and they were organized into five different categories. So, this was originally released in 2016 at our National Convention and Expo where they were shared with other practitioners. And then, they were able to give their feedback and help identify even more strategies for recess, as well.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah. And I think folks would understand why SHAPE America, being a professional organization of health and physical education folks, why they would be interested in this. And I guess it's really that academic and health and wellness piece why the CDC would be interested. And as it turns out, the CDC School Health branch funds schools through the public health actions program and their goal is to establish policies and support schools in improving the wellness things that they do.

So, if folks are wondering why the CDC gets involved with this, it's really they're tasked with kids wellness.

Michelle Carter: Yes, absolutely.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah.

Michelle Carter: And the children are the future, right?

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. And for folks who are interested in learning more about the CDC's activities in school recess, we'll have a link in the Show Notes to their page called Recess In Schools from the CDC. So you can learn more about their organization. 

In terms of SHAPE America, tell us more about SHAPE America. It's been around since 1885, that's pretty crazy.


Michelle Carter: Yes, it is. It's been around for a really long time. We've gone through a few different name changes. Even currently, if you look at some of our older resources, we've been known as NASPE, which is National Association for Sports and Physical Education. But now, we're SHAPE America and, like you said, we're the largest membership organization for health and PE teachers. 

And one of our biggest things that we do is that we've created our national standards for K-12 Physical Education. So what I kind of like to describe it as is you know the common core state standard — and these are national standards for Math and Reading — we developed national standards for Physical Education and kind of dictate what teachers should be teaching students. What is appropriate, what are best practices, and provide lots of resources for teachers to use and take away and to use in school. 

As well as we do a lot efforts related to advocacy and advancing the profession with a lot of work related to trying to get ESSA in, our PE included in the Every Student Succeeds Act. That's pretty much in a nutshell what we do.

Dr. Mike Patrick: I love the fact that you take such a practical approach like, "Okay, here's the science." And I know in terms of how the strategies for recess sort of get developed, we've mentioned that they're evidence-based and they're sort of base on, in one part, on a 2014 CDCs study called the School Health Policies and Practice Study, where they really look to see, okay, what is happening in recess across America? You know, what does recess look like? 

And then, they say, well, this would help child and student wellness more. And then, SHAPE America comes along and says, "How can we make that practical? How can we actually come up with some recommendations the schools can do to make thing better?" Right?


Michelle Carter: Absolutely. That's one of the things that we're working on, as an organization too, is how do we take research and make it, for a lack of a better word, digestible? So that how can someone who can understand it and what does that data mean being the teacher? So, yes, that's definitely what we do with this is we kind of look at this research and how to identify practical strategies that teachers and other school leaders could take away and use.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yes. And we'll put a link to your organization as well,, in the Show Notes for this episode, 383, so folks can learn more about exactly how you do that. 

Let's get in to some specifics with the recommendations for recess. How often should recess be offered at a school and how long should the recess period last?

Michelle Carter: So, ideally, we'd like to see recess be at least 20 minutes and offered every day.

Dr. Mike Patrick: And is this just for elementary school?

Michelle Carter: No, we want to do all the way, all grade levels K through 12 should have recess. And I know that's typically not what we think of when we hear the word recess. So in those older grade, it doesn't have to be called recess. But it is equally as important for secondary, middle, and high school students to get an opportunity for physical activity as well.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah. And I think that would really surprise some people when they hear that recess should be from kindergarten all the way up through 12th grade.

Michelle Carter: Yeah. I think it would be kind of strange for most people but it is the recommendation.

Dr. Mike Patrick: But then when you think about it, the fact that we don't get enough physical activity and my own health insurance program that I'm involve with, in order to get a discount on your premiums, they want us to get 6,000 steps a day for a couple of months and actually document it that we're doing it. And so, why not it extend really that health awareness to teenagers.

Michelle Carter: Absolutely.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Not just the young kids.


Michelle Carter: Yeah. It makes sense all around. On the younger end of the spectrum, we have elementary students. You think, well, they're just too little and they're meant to be active and they want to play. But then, on the other end, when you have 10th, 11th, and 12th graders, we're also teaching them that physical activities are important part of your life and that you should be physically active. 

So, we have to keep that message going all the way through until they're in 12th grade. So that when they are adult, they continue this healthy habit of  making time for physical activity, and physical activity is an important part of my health and wellness.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, excellent point. Now, in terms of timing of recess, here on PediaCast, we covered a research study a few months ago I think it was that looked at the timing of recess before lunch and after lunch. And it actually sort of confused things a little bit because for some ages, it seem like there was better eating if you did it before lunch, but for others, it was better if it was after. What is your take on timing? When you look at all of the evidence collectively, what are the recommendations in terms of the when recess should take place?

Michelle Carter: So our recommendation is that recess should happen before lunch. Yes, it should happen before lunch because the thought is that you build… By being physically active, students are going to end being hungrier. And they're more likely to eat the food that's offered to them and make better nutritional choices.

So, I think anybody who's been in the school at lunchtime, you'll see sometimes, children don't drink the milk or they don't eat the fruit, or they skip the vegetables. But kind of inducing hunger through physical activity, they're more likely to eat everything that's being offered to them, for kids going to school lunch, which should be more nutritional. They're getting a better balanced meal.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, yeah. That certainly makes sense and I think when you look at all of the  evidence together, even if you discount one study here or there, that overall, we see an increase in food consumption, including fruits and vegetables and milk. And reduce waste if you have recess before lunch. 

Now the only thing is then you have to make sure kids are getting fuel in the morning, right? I mean breakfast is important especially if you're going to have recess before lunch.


Michelle Carter: Yeah, definitely.

Dr. Mike Patrick: That's something I know that's not in your realm, but certainly, it's important to make sure that kids are getting a good breakfast, whether that's a home or if it's in an area where food is hard to come by, that communities are helping provide that.

Michelle Carter: Yes, absolutely.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah. I love how your guidelines, the evidence-based guidelines, I'm sorry, recommendations, strategies, just the ideas that you put forward on how to implement recess really begins at the leadership decision level of the school.

Michelle Carter: Yes, it does. It does. It starts with identifying recess policies and developing a recess plan starting there, because you have to make sure that everybody's on the same page. And that starting with the foundation first before anything can be implemented. It's good to have these processes in place so that people can go back to something, a document and have that written.

Dr. Mike Patrick: And we talked a little bit ago about indoor versus outdoor. It's really good to designate a space, as you're making those initial decisions, both outdoors and indoors, just in case the weather's bad.

Michelle Carter: Absolutely. I mean, we don't know what's going to happen but weather should not be a reason to not have recess. But still offer recess opportunity to be physically active so, it's not putting into a room and watching a movie, but providing them space or some kind of strategy to allow them to still be active even if it's inside.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah. And you talked about having teachers and volunteers who are out, really engaged with the kids and helping to organize recess activities. What sort of training do they undergo for that?

Michelle Carter: It's a basic training to kind of help them with monitoring — how do you monitor and what kinds of ways to set up recess, and that sort of thing. So, by doing that, really having trained staff related to recess, it actually decreases behavioral problems, too. So, it's really helpful to have a staff trained and it's whatever policies that you have related to that.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, yeah. That totally make sense because you think if recess is looked at as jut sort of you'll send the kids outside and they  do what they're going to do, you're more likely to have conflict from time to time and discipline problems. But if you have trained professionals out there with them, sort of redirecting and helping with conflict resolution, that's going to be really an important part of a successful recess.

Michelle Carter: Yes, absolutely.

Dr. Mike Patrick: What about the environment itself? So we talked about indoor versus outdoor, are there recommendations in terms of specifics of what the recess area should look like? What equipment should be available or how do you come up with the best practice for that?

Michelle Carter: So, definitely making sure that equipment is age appropriate. So, you wouldn't want, obviously, with little smaller children on equipment that's made for older children. Obviously, doing a scan of the equipment that is outside, making sure that it's safe, that it's meeting regulations, the proper padding and those sort of thing would be the first things. So just making sure all that equipment is safe.      

Another way to do is creating physical activity zone. It's one way that you can do it. So, again, just setting up areas if you have a field or an open space that's outside. You can create designated zones for the kinds of physical activity students can engage in. 


You can have planned activity, so then say, on Monday, this activity would be provided on recess while still having other activity provided as well as options, too, and maybe a combination of those strategies. And also having equipment available for students, different kind of equipment that is  not broken. Those all different strategies that you can do during recess that actually help increase physical activity. So more students being active.

Dr. Mike Patrick: And kids are going to be more likely to want to be active if they have a choice of things because it's not really a one size fits all in terms of what physical activity particular kid would want to participate in.

Michelle Carter: Right. Exactly.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, that's fantastic.

Michelle Carter: Exactly.

Dr. Mike Patrick: And I love the idea, too, as I was reading through these recommendations. One idea was to have activity cards, maybe to give kids ideas of things that they could do that may not have thought of.

Michelle Carter: Absolutely. And sometimes, it just takes a little nudge like an activity card. But oh, this sound like fun, that they may not have thought of to get them moving. And that's what the whole idea around that specific strategy, is to encourage kids to be physically active. Sometimes, you see kids sitting around, and there's nothing necessarily wrong with that sometimes, but you want to encourage them to use that recess time to be active if you can.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah. And I think the more that schools and communities talk about this together, the more support for having more intentional recess time rather than it being just a free for all and sending the kids outside. But the more the schools and communities engage with one another and really elevate the importance of recess, the more likely it is the individual school will have success with it.


Michelle Carter: Yes, right. And we don't want to say recess is structured. It's still an opportunity for kids to have unstructured time. You're creating parameters  to them to move in but it's still all self-selection and they're all still choosing what they want to participate in. We're just kind of setting up the environment to increase them and help move them towards choosing some physical activity within that time period.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. And one of the other strategies that you folks have mentioned was, it's important that schools gather some information on the kids that are participating in recess and just seeing what's happening in terms of the amount of physical activity and whether adjustments need to be made.

Michelle Carter: Yes. Yes. So, different ways that you can do that are you can bring about the survey and see what kind of activity they would want to be included. So, this is also great opportunity to kind of get your school community involved, like identifying student leaders to say, "Hey, what are some activities that you would like to do?" Or get them to lead some activities during recess as well. 

So, gathering information about what kinds of activities that students would like and then providing them for students. Using heart rate monitors and accelerometers to track activity levels is a great way to do that also, to see how much students are being active. And even if haven't implemented any of these strategies that could be a really good way to find out if you are seeing improvement in physical activity, in using the heart rate monitors or some kind of pedometer to see if those increase.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah. And that seems to me like that'd be a great opportunity for the school to communicate with parents, the purpose of doing that. I can see parents like "What, you're monitoring my kid's heart rate and how much activity they're getting?" But it's really to try to make adjustments, not for an individual child but really for the school community at large.

Michelle Carter: Oh, good point, great  point. Yes, it's more so about program evaluation than it would be about the individual child, that we're seeing across more students tend to be in higher level, higher heart rate sort of thing than they've been before. 


Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. And I think for a lot of parents listening to this — at least for me, maybe they're more advanced in their thinking — there's a whole idea that it's unstructured and yet, there's structures within that unstructured time. 

Michelle Carter: Right. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: Because when I was a kid, it was just a free for all. The bell ring, you went outside. And when that ring again, you come back in and that was it. And so, this whole idea of really having some structure and yet it being unstructured is I think probably a new concept for many parents. At least, the ones that are my age. 


Michelle Carter: Right. And there's nothing wrong with the free for all. It's still those times where there's not a teacher directly telling you what to do. You're setting up these different things where the students can make a choice. And maybe sometimes you don't have anything so structured and it's a little less, I want to say organized. But you know, it's more of that "Just go out and play and here's some equipment to play with." But both are good. But we're just really focused helping people to make the time and recess more meaningful and enhance it. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: And I would imagine that that having those options and being more intentional about it is probably even more important as you get into the older kids, where you are more likely to congregate into groups and maybe  sit around and just talk. And socialization is very important, too. 

Michelle Carter: It is. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: But we also know that being active is important and that's sort of a place where we have a deficiency with screens and smart phones and social media. It's really easy for kids to stay social but it is hard sometimes to get them to be active. 

Michelle Carter: Absolutely. I think the older students are definitely a challenge when trying to get them and being creative with ways to get them physically active. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. So how are American schools doing in terms of meeting these recommendations?


Michelle Carter: Well, at the elementary levels, most schools are providing regularly scheduled recess. So it's about 93% to 95% of schools that are K through 5 are offering recess regularly. But this percentage actually declines in elementary schools that offer sixth grade. And it's only 35% of sixth grade students are getting regular recess. So you can see how that already even just that shift in one grade, the percentage dropped a lot. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, yeah. And it doesn't tell the whole story, those numbers, because even though over 90% of elementary schools do offer recess, we don't really know in terms of middle and high school, right? Because the data really just looked at elementary schools and up to sixth grade. But that doesn't guarantee that recess is being implemented in the best practices evidence-based way, like we've been discussing. 

Michelle Carter: Exactly. And it doesn't mean that it's 20 minutes. It doesn't mean that it's daily. I know, locally, there's counties around where we are in Virginia that are giving recess 15 minutes and at the end of the day. So there's still some work — even though they're being offered daily recess, which is great — it's just like you said, using these strategies to even making it even better and more impactful in the student's day. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, absolutely.

Michelle Carter: But you can see those benefits. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: One of the things I found disturbing as I was researching this topic was that nearly half of elementary schools exclude the students from recess as a form of punishment. 

Michelle Carter: Yes. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: It doesn't seem like a good idea. 

Michelle Carter: No, not at all. Never should recess be withheld from students as a form of punishment and nor should physical activity be used for punishment. Actually, SHAPE America has a whole position statement just on withholding physical activity in recess as punishment. And really, it's found that using that as a strategy isn't really effective. There are other strategies that a teacher or an administrator could use that will be more impactful and have a lasting effect related to behavior. And withholding physical activity in recess is just not one of them. 


And honestly, we just want our students to have positive experience that's around physical activity as much as possible, to encourage them to continue to be active into adulthood. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: When you consider that physical activity then helps with attention in the classroom and reduced discipline problems in the class, then if the kids who are having more behavioral problems are excluded from physical activity, it seems like it's going to be a bad loop. In terms of then, they're going to have even worse behavior because they're not able to be active and run off their energy. 

Michelle Carter: Absolutely. Absolutely. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: But when you consider that nearly half of elementary schools still use recess, keeping it from kids as a form of punishment, I think there really needs to be more education. I mean, it'll be like, if we're looking at recess as being just as important to a student's overall wellbeing , it's like excluding them from Math class because they're not behaving. 

Michelle Carter: Absolutely. I think you're right. It has to do with educating and that physical activities and… It shouldn't be… People look it's an easy quick fix. I mean, a lot of children like recess. It's that one opportunity to kind of you're able to not have to think about… You can be free for a moment. I'm playing. I'm having a good time. It's enjoyable, it's leisure time. And so, it's just an easy thing to use as a consequence for poor behavior. But really, it's not really helping anything.  There are other things that are more effective. 


Dr. Mike Patrick: And you'd mention, maybe in the older kids, we shouldn't call it recess. Have you come across any creative names for that time? 

Michelle Carter: Sometimes people have called it exploratory period or something along those lines. It's just physical activity period. Call it what it is, I guess. But recess because of it's usually you think of little kids. You don't have to call it recess, if you're calling it something else. Just one other thing, walking/talk time if you're talking about an opportunity for students to walk and talk with friends, but encouraging them to be moving during that time. So there's a lot of different ways that you can kind of leverage that time for older kids. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: Sounds like a good opportunity for a contest. 

Michelle Carter: Absolutely.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Like have the student body name this period of activity, what do you want to call it. I bet they would come up with some pretty creative names. 

Michelle Carter: I think so, too. And that goes straight to one of our categories about engaging the school community. Get them involved. They have to own it and feel empowered with it. Let them take ownership over it and feel good about it. And that's how you can release increase the participation in that. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: On the other side of things, I'm sure there are folks in school districts who were saying, "Look, we have so many demands and we have to have our students passing test and proficiencies." What case can you make to those folks in terms that this really is time that you cannot afford to cut out for recess?

Michelle Carter: Well, research has shown that recess will not negatively impact academic outcome. And if anything, making more time for it gives you the exact opposite and may see positive results in many areas. I think, because there's just been an increase in academic achievement and those administrators feel that pressure to have high test scores, they look at what works. We need more math time, more reading time. We need more time in these subjects so that they do better. That if they kind of release some of that pressure and provided the opportunity for more physical activity, that they could actually be surprised at what it can do for their students. 


Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. I think back to my days in medical school. And you can study and study and study, but it's so helpful then to have a period of time when your brain can actually process information while you're being physically active. To actually sort things and convert things from short term memory to long term memory and things that happen when you sleep, and also, when you're not necessarily thinking. 

Michelle Carter: Yes, absolutely. I can talk more about this as well, but we have so many great advocacy resources. I had mentioned that earlier, SHAPE America does. And it's really helpful for parents or teachers who would like to advocate more for physical activity and PE. And we have a lot of already being resources that simply you can just print out.

But one image that I was thinking is very telling is the brain that's inactive. It's like a brain scan with the different areas of the brain and it's color coded of a child sitting, and then a brain after 20 minutes of walking. How the brain, the scan just lights up with so many more colors if there's just much more activity. 

So there's definitely, I'm sure medical people, you know the connection between mind and body, but we have to education people who are decision makers and leaders who may not necessarily know about that or believe in it. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I love some of the resources that you guys have available. Tell us more about those. And we'll include links to all of these in the Show Notes over at for Episode 383. But let us know some of the things that folks will find at the SHAPE America website. 

Michelle Carter: So specifically, to recess, we have the The strategy that we've been referring to, those 19 strategies, there's that document which is called Strategies In Recess. There's also a recess planning in schools which is a guide to  help people who do not have a written plan in recess to start developing one. 


And to accompany that is a template, which is called Recess Planning Template, which is a Word document that is customizable. So somebody can just download it and immediately begin typing in it. And once they've answered the question and filled it in, they can print it out and they have a written recess plan. 

Some of the advocacy related tools, we have a legislative action center where parents were PE teacher or whoever can go on to here, they can find their state. And they can send a letter directly to Congress men and women advocating for physical education and physical activity. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, I mean, really a great collection of resources. We've covered some of the 19 evidence-based strategies for planning and providing recess in schools, but we certainly didn't talk about all of them. So folks who want to read all 19 of them will have a link to strategies for recess in schools at the SHAPE America website, the planning template that you had mentioned, a guide for putting those strategies into practice. So just so much, and like I said, we'll have links in the Show Notes for folks so they can find those easily over at, this episode, 383. 

Tell us how parents can make a difference. As you talk about those sort of stubborn school administrators that may not be on board with this, it seems like if you had a community full of parents who were advocating for an intentional recess period that implemented these guidelines, the more vocal the parent community is, you can really make a difference that way. 

Michelle Carter: Absolutely. I truly think parents are strong advocate for recess. They have a strong voice as you said. I'm in Virginia and even here locally, there's been a few local movements to increase recess time. And there's even some that you'll see nationally, like in Florida. And the media has dubbed them as "recess moms fighting for more physical activity in recess in school". And with that pressure, they've been able to kind of pushed legislatures to include more physical activity or mandatory recess time in school. 


So parents, I urge them, go to school board meetings and share with leaders the importance of physical activity and recess. You can print out these documents and share them with them. Be a part of the PTA or share this with the PTA as something that maybe they can work towards  improving recess and enhancing it. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: Or run for school board. 

Michelle Carter: Yes. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: I mean, if you're not getting anywhere… 

Michelle Carter: Be right there making the decisions. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yes, yes, absolutely. And I think one are that I would focus on myself is just this whole idea of folks taking recess away as punishment, with up to nearly half of the elementary schools doing that right there, is a huge way that you can make a difference by making sure that doesn't happen in your local school district. 

Michelle Carter: Yes. And kind of speaking to that point, I know 19 strategies sounds kind of like, oh my gosh, that's a lot. But really then, some of them are very simple that you can just do right away. And one of them is that not using taking away recess as a punishment. So some of them are very simple that it can be done right away. And some of them may take a little bit more planning and a little bit more time to implement. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. And I guess a good place to start is just making sure that you have a recess time every day that's 20 minutes and every great level from kindergarten up through Grade 12. Because I'll bet that there are tons of parents right now who they don't have those simple three things in their school district. 

Michelle Carter: Yes, I think you're right about that. Simply just pushing for more, for 20 minutes daily could be a great start. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: We also have a lot of medical providers who listen to this program. So pediatrician, family practice doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, people who take care of kids, how can they impact recess in their communities?


Michelle Carter: So I think, directly talk about parents being a strong voice. What they can do is talking to those parents that they see about the importance of children being physically active and recess being one of those ways to provide physical activity opportunity for those students, for their children. Children spend a lot of time in school. Most of the day might be in school, so really taking advantage of that time in school to be physically active, getting that 60 minutes a day, half of them can come from the activity that they get in school.

So I would say that. And also communicating with them it's not just for the younger children. It is for kids all the way up until 12th grade, too, should have that opportunity to be active and enjoying some kind of physical activity period or recess. 

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. And as I say, we'll have links to all sorts of recess resources for folks in the Show Notes at 

Well, Michelle, really do appreciate you taking time and enlightening all of us on recess. So, Michelle Carter, Senior Program Manager for SHAPE America, thanks so much for being here today. 

Michelle Carter: No problem. Thank you so much for having me. 


Dr. Mike Patrick: All right, we are back with just enough time to say thanks to all of you, once again, for taking time out of your day and making PediaCast a part of it. Really do appreciate that.    


Also thanks to Michelle Carter for stopping by. She's the senior program manager for SHAPE America and just really had some great information for all of us about the importance of recess. So really appreciate her stopping by today. 

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Thanks again for stopping by and until next time, this is Dr. Mike saying stay safe, stay healthy, and stay involved with your kids. So long, everybody. 


Announcer 2: This program is a production of Nationwide Children's. Thanks for listening. We'll see you next time on PediaCast.

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