According to the NAEYC, National Association for the Education of Young Children, recess is part of learning. NAEYC sets the developmental guidelines for what is appropriate for our children; they are the gold standard. Play is the reflection of a child’s growth; it helps define who they are and is universal to all children because it is intrinsically motivated. Play is an outlet for emotional expression; it focuses on the activity in progress rather than the results. When children are engaged in play, they are thinking critically and abstractly, learning to deal with consequences, problem solving, investigations, pro-social behaviors, bonding with peers, and increasing communication skills. These benefits will accentuate the positive behaviors essential to obtaining cognitive growth in the classroom.

When children play together, they become invested in each other, less likely to bully each other, and more likely to defend one another. NCLB created a rush to engage students with more academic work, which meant recess and physical education were the first to be cut in order to provide more time for test taking and data collection.

According to Dr. Charles Basch, in an article in the Journal of School Health, children in lower income areas have less access to school-based physical activity, which affects emotional stability, physical health, and motivation to learn. The students who would benefit the most are those with the greatest need for cognitive benefits. Even though there is not any evidence that supports more work and less play, schools with lower performance scores remove or cut physical education and recess from the curriculum hoping to gain greater achievements. The current research actually supports increased physical activity having a causal link with positive outcomes on academic success. Brain research tells us that increased oxygen saturation, caused by activity, increases brain neurotransmitters, which increases neurotrophins that support neuronal differentiation and survival in a developing brain; this is linked with cognitive growth.

A study in 2006, of 214 sixth-grade students, showed that students who participated in 55 minutes of physical education did just as well on standardized test scores as their peers who used that time for daily classroom activities ( Academic performance of children engaged in daily physical activity was measured against the norms of U.S. students using Pearson measures. The results indicated an increase in oral comprehension, reading, vocabulary, and phonics. The academic performance was assessed using test scores, grades, observations, and progress monitoring. The gender, income level, physical habits, eating habits, and family life were taken into account when developing the groups of children to study.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that each child get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Although there are not any federal laws requiring physical education or recess, Florida statute 1003.455 requires that children get 150 minutes of physical education each week, with a minimum of 30 minutes of continuous activity. The Recess Moms are currently working on the recess bill, which might make it through this year due to increased support.

Stacie Dern