Stillwater, St. Croix Prep wisely using research on recess


Remember recess? Was it a relief? Are your memories mostly about fun and games?

Or was it sometimes traumatic, with kids picking on you or others? Turns out that there’s a lot of rethinking going on about recess. In some places, recess unwisely is being eliminated.

Fortunately, Minnesota district and charter public schools are using research about recess. I recently surveyed 43 Minnesota district and charter public schools. Thirty-six, more than 80 percent, including Stillwater and St. Croix Prep, responded. Every one of the schools has retained daily recess in their elementary schools.

Independent School District 834 Superintendent Corey Lunn wrote that the district’s elementary schools have on average “15-20 minutes for recess and another 15-20 for lunch. My view is that this is needed. Kids need active, playtime in their day. This is important learning.”

At St. Croix Prep, Jon Gutierrez reported, “K-4 students have had a daily recess…. The lunch/recess block for 1st – 4th is 45 minutes. Kindergarten has a 15-minute recess in the a.m. and a 20-minute recess in the afternoon. Middle school combines lunch and recess for grades 5th – 8th.”

Wanda Renner, SCPA middle school director, wrote: “We can see a huge advantage with middle school students in that they need the physical activity to recharge them for the afternoon’s classes. This is essential to us, especially in grades seven and eight, since most of their core classes are scheduled in the afternoon. There is definitely a difference in attentive behavior and focus when we have indoor recess due to weather and cannot get outside.”

Lisa Heathcote, SCPA lower school director believes, “ it is absolutely essential for all our students to have this time to exercise their bodies and get some fresh air and sunshine within the school day.”

A widely cited 2005 study by the National Center for Educational Statistics shows that about seven percent of all public elementary school first-third grade students don’t have any daily recess. This increases to 14 percent in elementary schools that serve 50 percent or more students from minority groups.

Almost 20 percent of schools where 75 percent of more of students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch don’t offer daily recess for their first-third graders.

Anthony D Pellegrini a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Minnesota, is extremely critical of the “no recess” policy that some schools use. He explained, “No data has ever been presented” to show the value of eliminating recess.  However, he cited “numerous studies” documenting that

Having a break is very important.

“By having a break, students learn more when they get back in the classroom.”

Recess can help youngsters “learn and develop social skills.”

Some Minnesota districts are working with a national group called “Playworks,” which trains people who supervise recess. Playworks also helps youngsters learn how to talk positively with each other, and to resolve conflicts. Outside research of communities where Playworks has created programs shows that teachers generally think the program has:

Reduced bullying and “exclusionary behavior.”

Increased student safety.

Reduced the time it takes to make a transition from recess back to classroom learning activities.

Tom Dooher, president of Education Minnesota wrote to me: “The focus on pumping up test scores becomes counterproductive when it squeezes out activities like recess. Children, particularly young children, learn more when they take breaks and move around. Educators know this from experience and now it’s being confirmed by independent researchers.”


Joe Nathan, formerly a public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at [email protected]

  • AC Bruce

    I am a parent of a child at SCPA. I have actually been timing the recess at SCPA on/off for over a year now, and have reported my times (and concerns) back to the school. Oftentimes, recess at SCPA is about 11 minutes (once a day after lunch for lower school students). In the winter, to get those 11 minutes outside (or less), many kids have to wear their snow gear to lunch. Eat their lunch with their snowpants, boots, jackets, etc. on. Prior to attending SCPA, my child attended Lake Elmo Elementary. He had far more time outside there, even for the recess right after lunch. I have several friends who have withdrawn their children from SCPA this year for Stillwater’s public schools. They are reporting their kids have far more time outside when compared to SCPA, especially at Marine.
    Bottom line: This article makes it look like 1) SCPA’s administration values recess and 2) offers more of it than Stillwater’s public schools. Neither is true, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Go ahead and time each SCPA recess for yourself. You will be shocked at the LACK of recess the kids at SCPA get. If you are not shocked, you should be… SCPA’s administration should pay more attention to Mr. Dooher’s comments in this article.

  • Concerned Parent

    I am the mother of a student who attends SCPA. For the last year on/off, I have actually timed the length of SCPA’s lunch recess (the only regular recess my child is scheduled for during his long day at SCPA). Lunch and recess in the Lower School at SCPA combined approach 45 minutes. On several of the occasions I timed my son’s actual recess, his time outside was 11 minutes. In the winter, the kids have to wear their gear (jackets, snowpants, boots, etc.) to get those minutes outside. Parents: What I am claiming is easily verifiable. Time your child’s recess for yourself. I have called this issue to the attention of SCPA’s administration and nothing was done. In fact, I wasn’t even given the courtesy of a response. In my opinion, SCPA is doing exactly what Mr. Dooher suggests NOT to do in the article – focusing on pumping up test scores at the expense of activities like recess.

  • Former Student

    I am a student that formally attend SCPA (Lower School). At my new school, I get 20 minutes for lunch and 30 or more minutes for recess.