by Rae Pica


Besides lack of time, the reason most often given by school administrators for revoking recess is that there’s too much bullying and bad behavior taking place on the playground during recess. Well, that may be so. But is eliminating recess the solution to the problem? If we were to follow the same logic, we would likewise eliminate math or language arts if students were failing in those topics.

Chances are, a bully is a bully is a bully. And somewhere, somehow, the behavior is going to show itself. We’re not eradicating the problem by eradicating recess. On the other hand, if we do see a pattern of bullying on the playground, we’re alerted to the fact that there’s a child in need of help.

Besides, there are alternatives. They may take more time and effort than simply whisking the problem under the rug, but time and effort are part and parcel of educating children. Following are some ideas:

Have more adults on the playground. In some places this has been accomplished when a mom’s efforts drew the attention of other parents, who volunteered to help out with recess.

Provide training in conflict resolution. When children are unable to resolve conflicts on their own, teachers, paraprofessionals, and parent volunteers should know how and when to intervene.

Provide “playground” training.The American Association for the Child’s Right to Play offers tips for a safe and friendly environment on its website and also provides training for “playground teacher specialists” in the schools. Physical education teachers can do similar training. When children and adults know how to use the space and equipment – and have been taught plenty of games to play – there are likely to be fewer problems during recess.

Offer recess before lunch. Chip Wood, in his book Time to Teach, Time to Learn: Changing the Pace of School, recommends restructuring the middle of the day so that recess precedes lunch. Wood has found that when children are allowed to first work up an appetite, eat lunch, and then have some quiet time, they’re “more productive and engaged in the afternoon.”



Rae Pica is a children’s physical activity specialist and the author of A Running Start: How Play, Physical Activity, and Free Time Create a Successful Child (Da Capo Press, 2006) and Great Games for Young Children (Gryphon House, 2006). She has shared her expertise with such clients as the Sesame Street Research Department, the Centers for Disease Control, Gymboree Play & Music, and the President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports. She is also co-creator and host of “Body, Mind and Child,” a radio program in which she interviews experts in the fields of early childhood education, child development, the neurosciences, and more. Listen at