The Importance of Including Recess in School Reopening Plans

  1. Updates

To elementary school leaders and teachers,

When offering guidance on school reopening, the CDC and most states don’t specifically provide guidelines for recess. Yet, we know that kids, parents, and educators want to ensure returning to school is safe and feels fun for kids, and that should always include recess, because kids benefit from playing every day. When everyone experiences a safe and joyful recess, the whole school day goes better.

Kids value recess as a critical part of a routine school day, and play builds serious skills. “Recess is a necessary break in the day for optimizing a child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development,” said the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

You may feel right now like recess is way down in the list of things to worry about, especially when the “new normal” for the school day isn’t at all clear and planning for the fall is challenging. We totally understand that. And we share your concern about how kids will reconnect with each other and how long it might take to build a new sense of community and belonging that make learning possible. You need the chance to rebuild in-person relationships, too. We promise you that with a bit of effort, and some free resources we’re happy to share, you can ensure a safe and joyful recess for everyone, which will make the whole school day go better.

Our team at Playworks, a nonprofit leveraging play to enable kids to develop social, emotional, and physical skills, applied 25 years of experience to support schools in their reopening strategies. We’ve learned something important: 

It isn’t hard to create COVID-safe opportunities for kids to play. 

Safety concerns at recess historically focused on behavior referrals and equipment maintenance. COVID safety at recess means school leaders are now also responsible for thinking about physical space, equipment, and resource limitations differently. Without federal or state guidance, it is up to individual schools/districts to determine if you will have recess at their schools and how to approach it in a COVID-safe way

Playworks has designed the following resources to help schools host COVID-safe recesses.

  • Think about your space. Are kids staying in cohorts? If so, offer 2 to 3 games for each group and keep them separate. When kids playing in the same space, use visuals such as maps, cones, paint, and/or chalk to show boundaries and zones. You can find more support for mapping your space and begin to create plans for your school by leveraging the Playworks School Re-opening Workbook. This workbook offers guidance around how infusing play and playfulness into the process can help, and gives you practical tools to try it on. Other easy-to-master topics in the workbook include: rituals, rules, referees, and games.
  • If you need more support, Playworks offers a Safe Return to Play training for school staff. Get tailored insights about how to design your particular space to make it safe for the students to reap the benefits of play.

Access to recess must be provided at scale for our children’s benefit. I urge you and all school administrators to prioritize recess as schools reopen. As schools address learning loss through longer school years, summer programming, or after school programs, I encourage you to intentionally plan to play throughout every child’s day, every day.

Elizabeth Cushing

CEO, Playworks

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