Recess serves as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom. But equally important is the fact that safe and well-supervised recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits that may not be fully appreciated when a decision is made to diminish it. Recess is unique from, and a complement to, physical educationnot a substitute for it.

American Academy of Pediatrics, “The Crucial Role of Recess in School,” Pediatrics 131/1 (2013)  


The NYC Department of Education (DOE) and local Community Education Councils (CEC) have long recognized the importance of recess and physical activity, initially as a response to the rising obesity epidemic, but increasingly for its benefits beyond that. 

The DOE states that children should get at least 20 minutes a day of outdoor recess. Yet, recess policies and practices vary greatly throughout NYC with students in too many schools getting much less than the recommended amount of recess.

All NYC students must get at least 20 minutes of unstructured, active play outside every day. This is in addition to the state-mandated time for physical education. Recognizing challenges due to staffing and school size, this recess time should be encouraged whenever it can happen throughout the day. Movies or TV should never be used as a substitute for recess or free play.


More Information:

The 2010 DOE Wellness Policy States:

In addition to physical education classroom time, DOE encourages principals to provide elementary school students with at least 20 minutes a day of supervised recess, preferably outdoors, during which time staff encourage moderate to vigorous physical activity and provide appropriate space and equipment. DOE policy states that outdoor play is permitted regardless of temperature so long as weather conditions are appropriate.



The DOE also states:

Children benefit from vigorous exercise and should be given the opportunity to play outside whenever possible. Unless it is snowing or there is ice on the playground, low temperatures should not be a barrier to outside play, as long as children are appropriately dressed. The Health Department strongly encourages principals to maintain outdoor play periods on the vast majority of winter days.



In 2016, the District 30 CEC passed a resolution supporting daily recess:

Community District Education Council 30 emphatically requests that all Principals ensure that staff is adhering to the DOE recommendations outlined above, that their students, regardless of age, receive a minimum of twenty minutes of daily outdoor recess or, if weather prohibits, indoor physical activity, and implement a policy that prohibits using recess as a punitive or disciplinary measure.

Also stated in the resolution: “if weather prohibits outdoor recess, there are a number of options available for physical activity in lieu of watching a movie or television show.”



Texas school experiment

In four Texas schools, students were given two 15 minute breaks for recess every day. “Some five months into the experiment, McBride's fears have been alleviated. Her students are less fidgety and more focused, she said. They listen more attentively, follow directions and try to solve problems on their own instead of coming to the teacher to fix everything. There are fewer discipline issues.



Seattle Teachers and Parents Fight for Recess

In the end, the unity of parents and educators won a contract that included race and equity teams in 30 schools, an end to the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluations, a cap on the amount of students for school psychologists and other Education Support Associates—and, of course, the precious 30 minutes of recess.



See also Dash NY’s Mandatory Daily Active Recess Policy Implementation Guide, which outlines the benefits of daily recess, and offers implementation strategies.