Taking Away Recess- a punishment for yourself

Picture this: your students are unusually rambunctious, not listening, talking-back, being loud, etc. What I hear many times as I walk through the halls of schools is a well-meaning teacher trying to discipline by saying, “One more time and I’ll have to take away recess” or “I’ve already taken away recess for today, do you want tomorrow to be removed too?”.

When I hear this, I *cringe* every time. Recess, free-play, and unstructured play is vital for not only socialization skills, but also for classroom learning.

Every child *needs* movement throughout their day. It is one of the most important tools to improve learning new information, increased attention, and good behavior throughout the school day. That being said, even an unruly child requires some sort of movement/play during a school day- you may just have to set up further parameters to keep them safe. Recess should not be removed unless there are serious safety risks towards both students and adults. With a case severe enough to have recess removed, there should still be a safe space provided for this child to release their energy.

The late Dr. Karyn Purvis, PhD, founder and director of the TCU Institute of Child Development, said “It takes over 400 repetitions to create a synapse in the brain (true learning) without playful engagement OR about 12 repetitions to create a synapse when you use play to teach.”

Countless studies have shown that more frequent recess directly correlates to better grades and improved behavior. This article by the Scholastic company provides more information and cites such research:


A note on discipline: I’m all for it- children are looking for how far they can push their boundaries and need to learn that there are consequences for their actions. Elementary-aged children need discipline that is immediate. They’re brains are not mature enough to fully understand punishment once removed from the situation. Two hours, one hour, or even a half-hour after a negative behavior, they will have difficulty connecting to two events. The consequences should be something they can relate to the behavior at the time of the incident.

In the end, taking away recess is punishment for yourself. Taking away recess will leave your students with pent-up energy, confusion, frustration, and fatigue… and leave you with the consequences.

-Christine M, OTR/L

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