Teachers often cancel recess as a punishment. A growing number of states want to change that. 

the latest tech news, global tech news daily, tech news today, startups, usa tech, asia tech, china tech, eu tech, global tech, in-depth electronics reviews, 24h tech news, 24h tech news, top mobile apps, tech news daily, gaming hardware, big tech news, useful technology tips, expert interviews, reporting on the business of technology, venture capital funding, programing language

Taking away recess to discipline elementary school students doesn’t work. Experts say it’s time to stop.

This article about recess was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.

In Florida, kids in a second grade class were told to walk laps during recess after no one confessed to taking money from a classmate. In Kentucky, a first grader who hadn’t been paying attention in class had to sit on a bench next to his teacher and watch his friends play. In Texas, after a few students misbehaved, an entire first grade class had to sit inside silently for recess.

the latest tech news, global tech news daily, tech news today, startups, usa tech, asia tech, china tech, eu tech, global tech, in-depth electronics reviews, 24h tech news, 24h tech news, top mobile apps, tech news daily, gaming hardware, big tech news, useful technology tips, expert interviews, reporting on the business of technology, venture capital funding, programing language

Amid long, structured school days filled with academic demands, recess serves as a critical outlet and break for kids, according to pediatricians and child development experts. 

But, on any given day, an untold number of children in elementary schools nationwide have all or part of their recess revoked for infractions such as failing to finish their work, talking out of turn or not following directions. The long-standing and common punishment in schools occurs even though the practice flies in the face of considerable research supporting the importance of free play for young children.

Global Tech News Daily

Recently, there has been growing momentum to pass laws to protect recess time. Lawmakers in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Minnesota introduced bills over the past year to prohibit schools from withholding recess as a punishment. 

Image: children playing on a playground.
Children play during recess on the playground of Medora Elementary School in Louisville, Kentucky. Kentucky does not have a law protecting recess. Jon Cherry / Getty Images file

If successful, these states would go further than nearly anywhere else in the U.S. in banning the practice. Eleven other states and Washington, D.C. — as well as districts including the Austin Independent School District in Texas and the New York City Department of Education — have laws or policies that limit how teachers can use the punishment, but few have outright bans. 

Global Tech News Daily

Most states still allow the practice, and in places that restrict it, enforcement can be rare. Even in states that mandate physical activity or recess time, some parents report their children still sometimes lose entire recess periods. Overwhelmed educators have pushed back against losing disciplinary options or have continued withholding recess, with few consequences. 

The Hechinger Report spoke to 18 parents and students and collected 60 additional examples from parents and teachers nationwide via social media and public testimony, all detailing the stories of young students who lost recess time — including in states without laws addressing the practice but where official guidelines advise against the punishment and in districts where it is prohibited.

“When it happened to my child, my first thought was, ‘Is this legal?’” said Maren Christenson Hofer, who said her son, who has autism, lost recess more than once in kindergarten in Minnesota. “My second thought was, ‘Has this person ever met a child before?’”

Advocates for disability rights and experts in child development say withholding recess is a type of “shadow discipline,” informal punishments that are rarely recorded. Similar methods include silent lunches and making children stand outside the classroom. While other forms of discipline, such as suspensions and expulsions, can also be detrimental to children, they’re formally reported, with data that is transparent to parents and the public. 

Kids learn outdoors even in cold weather at this ‘forest kindergarten’

Feb. 24, 202105:48

But because shadow discipline methods aren’t tracked in the same way, it’s hard to know who receives these punishments or which schools use them most often. One survey found that 86 percent of teachers in the U.S. have decreased or taken away recess as a punishment for bad behavior.

Related: Kids can learn more from guided play than from direct instruction, report finds

There are myriad reasons why recess continues to be revoked. Dealing with challenging student behavior can be exhausting for teachers who work long hours and, in many cases, lack support in responding to student misbehavior. In some cases, the directive comes from the top. School districts nationwide have made recess detention part of their formal discipline policy, which in many cases is included in student handbooks.

Part of the appeal is that taking away recess can be a quick way to get some kids to comply, experts say. 

“I don’t really believe it’s the teacher’s intention to damage the children,” said Rebecca London, an associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the author of the book “Rethinking Recess.” “I think they use it as a threat because it’s the time kids want the most.”

Still, the practice has long been identified as harmful. In 2013 the American Academy of Pediatrics released a position statement on recess stressing that it “not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.” Recess, the group argued, is a “crucial and necessary component of a child’s development.”

‘Let them be kids’

In Midland, Texas, Rachel Davis said her two children have lost recess numerous times over the past four years. Instead of playing, they have been told to walk laps or have had to stay inside to finish work. 

“It’s so unnecessary,” Davis said. “Let them be kids.”

Experts say that while walking laps gives children an opportunity to engage in physical activity, it makes that activity a negative, rather than a positive, experience.

Withholding recess as a punishment can negatively affect a child’s relationships with teachers, feelings about school and sense of self-worth. It is a punishment that is especially stigmatizing and visible to their peers, child development experts say.

Related: How PE teachers are tackling ‘physical learning loss’

“That has potential repercussions in terms of their willingness to go to school, their attachment to school and the benefits they get from it,” said Dr. Marc Gorelick, president and chief executive officer of the pediatric health system Children’s Minnesota.

Last September, when Davis’ 8-year-old son returned to school after recovering from Covid, Davis said he came home and had a “complete and absolute meltdown.” Her son told her he wasn’t allowed to go to recess or any special classes that day, like art or physical education, and instead had to sit and make up the work he had missed.

“This is absolutely ridiculous,” Davis said. “Haven’t we given up enough of our child’s day without having to fight to protect recess?”

Davis called the principal at her son’s school, who agreed to allow him to go to recess and specials. But two months later, in November, her son’s teacher emailed Davis and said he would be staying in for part of his recess to redo a final draft of his writing project because it was “not final draft quality.” Davis was furious. “He is not going to stay in nor is that okay!” she responded in an email.

Related: Sent home early: Lost learning in special education

Elana Ladd, spokeswoman for the Midland Independent School District, said the district does not have a policy on withholding recess. The district follows state code, which requires elementary school students to have 30 minutes of physical activity a day, which could include recess or a physical education class. 

There have been efforts in Texas to legally protect recess. In 2019, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, vetoed legislation that would have required districts to create a recess policy that included required recess time and addressed recess withholding. Abbott said in a statement at the time that he appreciated the bill’s “good intentions” but argued it would have amounted to “bureaucracy for bureaucracy’s sake.”

Image: an empty playground.
The playground of an east Austin elementary school where one parent said recess was withheld in her son’s second grade class if students did not finish work in class.Jackie Mader / The Hechinger Report

In the absence of a state law, the Austin Independent School District school board passed a policy in 2016 that prohibits taking away recess as a punishment. Yet nine parents in the district  told The Hechinger Report in interviews or messages on social media that their children lost recess or were told to walk laps due to forgetting homework or misbehaving in the years since the policy went into effect.

Related: Some kids have returned to in-person learning only to be kicked right back out

Lisa, an Austin parent who spoke on the condition that her last name be withheld out of fear of retaliation from district officials, said her son had recess withheld when he was in first grade several years ago. In one case, her son told her that when he forgot to bring homework to school, he had to walk laps outside, a practice he said was common in his class. 

“That’s not appropriate,” Lisa said. “They’re not in the military.” Her son now attends a different school in the district where she said recess is not withheld.

Anthony Mays, Austin’s chief officer of schools, said he was surprised to hear recess was being withheld, though he acknowledged that the policy was not frequently communicated or enforced.

“We hope this is not a practice that’s widespread,” Mays said. “We value that opportunity for students to have that unstructured play time.”

In early April, after being contacted by The Hechinger Report, the district sent a memo to elementary principals to remind them that students should be attending recess, and directing them to immediately remind all teachers and staff of the policy. 

‘They’re not taught anything about recess’ 

Illinois is the most recent state to attempt to protect children’s recess time. A 2021 law made it mandatory to provide 30 minutes of daily, unstructured recess for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Unlike similar recess laws in Arizona and Florida, the law also prohibits schools from taking away recess as a disciplinary measure. 

After the law passed in Illinois, one teacher expressed her frustration in a public Facebook post. Recess, she wrote, was her “detention” time for addressing incomplete homework, behavior issues and makeup work with her students. “The kids have caught on pretty quickly,” to the fact that recess can’t be taken away, she wrote. “It doesn’t matter if they misbehave, it doesn’t matter if they don’t want to do their work.”

Experts say it’s up to school districts to make sure that teachers receive support if they’re struggling with challenging behaviors. Training in better classroom management practices could also stem turnover: Many teachers say classroom management struggles are a primary reason for leaving the job.

Across schools, there’s a need to reframe the way teachers approach classroom management in the early grades, said Cara Holt, a professional learning specialist for NWEA, a nonprofit focused on assessment and instruction. “It doesn’t have to be about consequences as it is about teaching them in that moment,” Holt said. That means making sure students understand why certain rules are set, “instead of being punitive,” she added.

Related: We know how to help young kids cope with the trauma of the last year — but will we do it?

When teachers withhold recess, they might be acting against their own best interests. Extensive research shows why recess is beneficial: Children are more attentive and productive and perform better cognitively after recess. Time for free play helps kids develop social skills, communication skills and coping skills like perseverance, stress management and self-control. Elementary school principals have reported that recess has a positive impact on academic performance and that students are more focused afterward.

“Play is how kids learn,” London said. “It’s their social time, emotional time, physical activity time, time to connect with other children, their time to be imaginative.” 

But these benefits may not be clear to all educators, especially when they feel strapped for time for academics and test prep.

“It’s not that teachers are actively taught, ‘You should take away recess as a good class management technique,’” London said. “They’re not taught anything about recess.”

‘I have really bad memories’ 

In Minnesota, the efforts to pass a bill banning the exclusion of students from recess have largely been led by parent advocates, including Christenson Hofer. Her son, Simon, 11, said when he was denied recess several times in kindergarten, he felt “just depressed.” The practice was also ineffective, he added, as he was “not likely to make better choices. I didn’t feel it was helping.”

The Hechinger Report spoke to two additional families in the district, and reviewed eight additional examples of parents who said their children have lost recess as a punishment in Minneapolis Public Schools over the past decade, provided as public testimony and letters in support of the new legislation. 

Image: simon hofer
Simon Hofer said getting recess withheld didn’t change his behavior and made him feel depressed.

Remy Fortuin, 15, remembers being taken to a special education classroom instead of recess as an attempt to calm him down when he was overstimulated in elementary school. “I hated it,” he said. “I have really bad memories of that room.” On the days he was held inside during recess, he would run out at pickup time like he was in a panic, his mother, Nikki Fortuin said.

Related: How a growing number of states are hoping to improve kids’ brains and exercise

Crystina Lugo-Beach, media relations coordinator with Minneapolis Public Schools, said that the district’s wellness policy states that all elementary children should receive a minimum of 30 minutes of daily recess, and that excluding children from physical activity due to behavior is “in violation of the district’s behavior standards.” When asked how the district enforces the policy, Lugo-Beach said reminders about the wellness policy are periodically sent to school principals. She said the district is unable to verify the claims of recess being withheld.

On a Friday morning in March, Simon joined a virtual Minnesota House education policy committee meeting to support new legislation that would ban withholding recess. He didn’t remember what he did that made his teachers take recess away, he told the committee. 

“But I am autistic. So, there is a pretty good chance it had something to do with my anxiety,” he added. “I get anxious a lot in school. And sometimes I say things I shouldn’t when I get stressed out. Sometimes I need to move my body when my teachers want me to sit still.”

The bill received pushback.

“I know my grandson has had to stay in and miss recess because he misbehaved. You know, he got over it,” said Rep. Sondra Erickson, a Republican and former teacher, after testimony about the bill. She questioned what teachers could do about misbehavior if they lose the ability to withhold recess. 

Despite opposition from Erickson and several others, the proposed ban on taking away recess passed the education policy committee and has since been added to a pending education policy bill. 

Even if the ban doesn’t pass, Christenson Hofer sees a positive change already. 

“More parents are feeling empowered to talk to their schools about the practice of withholding recess and why it needs to come to an end,” she said. “Even if we have to take another run at it again next year, at least we are having this important conversation.”

News Related

OTHER NEWS

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones reportedly involved in car crash

One person was briefly hospitalized as a precautionary measure after the car collision in Dallas, police said. Read more »

Some religions support abortion rights. Their leaders are speaking up.

"We support abortion justice not despite our religious values but because of them." Read more »

Roe v. Wade live updates: Protests rage on over leaked abortion ruling

“This is about a lot more than abortion," President Joe Biden said Wednesday. “What are the next things that are going to be attacked? Read more »

Woman accused of 1996 fatal stabbing in California arrested in Texas

Jade Benning was taken into custody near her Austin home in connection with the January 1996 death of her boyfriend in Santa Ana, officials said. Read more »

Buildings damaged in possible tornado outside Oklahoma City

The Seminole County undersheriff said he did not know of any injuries. Read more »

British Virgin Islands premier gets $500,000 bond in drug case

Federal court Judge Alicia Otazo-Reyes rejected prosecutors’ argument that Andrew Fahie may flee the U.S. and possibly engage in criminal activity if he is freed. Read more »

Kidd Creole sentenced to 16 years for fatal stabbing in New York City

The Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five rapper fatally stabbed a man after the two exchanged words. Kidd Creole argued self-defense. Read more »

‘It's already having an impact': LGBTQ people fear abortion rights reversal

Some LGBTQ people fear the reversal of abortion rights protections would have far-reaching impacts — both on their health and other rights such as marriage equality. Read more »

Abortion clinics are bracing for protests, harassment and violence if Roe falls

“News like this, political losses like this, can embolden people who want to harass or terrorize abortion providers,” an abortion-rights advocate said. Read more »

Wife of judge who dismissed Strauss lawsuits had $313K flag contract with OSU

Lawyers for the victims of former OSU doctor Richard Strauss say Judge Michael H. Watson should have recused himself from the cases. Read more »

Covid's toll in the U.S. reaches a once unfathomable number: 1 million deaths

"It's an exponential number of other people that are walking around with a small hole in their heart," one widow said. Read more »

Alabama officer accused of helping inmate escape no longer employed by sheriff's office

Vicky White, 56, is wanted on a charge of permitting or facilitating the escape of inmate Casey White on Friday. Read more »

'Very dangerous fire weather' as New Mexico braces for more wildfire conditions

The Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon fire was 20 percent contained as of Wednesday morning, while the Cooks Peak fire was 89 percent contained, fire authorities reported. Read more »

Hiker's body found at base of California waterfall after 80-foot fall, officials say

Robert Carey Jr., 33, of Calimesa, was hiking at the San Bernardino National Forest when he fell, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. Read more »

Trevor Reed family urges White House to bring Brittany Griner, Paul Whelan home from Russia 

The family of Reed, the former U.S. Marine who was held in Russian jail for nearly three years, spoke at a rally in front of the White House on Wednesday. Read more »

Judge overseeing Derek Chauvin civil rights case accepts plea deal

The judge said Wednesday he will sentence the former Minneapolis police officer to 20 to 25 years in prison. Read more »

U.S. takes unprecedented steps to replenish Colorado River's Lake Powell

If Lake Powell, the second largest U.S. reservoir, were to drop another 32 feet, the 1,320-megawatt plant would be unable to generate electricity for millions of people. Read more »

Trans youths who socially transition are unlikely to 'detransition' later, study finds

An overwhelming majority of youths who socially transitioned still identified as transgender five years later, according to the study. Read more »

Body of one of three children last seen entering the Mississippi River has been found

Kevin Poole Jr., 15, was located about two miles from where he and two girls, ages 8 and 14, were last seen. Read more »

Map: Abortion restriction bills pending in 40 states this year

More than 500 pieces of legislation taking aim at abortion access have been considered so far in 2022. Read more »

Missing 7-year-old girl's safety and well-being 'were not prioritized,' report finds

Harmony Montgomery has not been seen since 2019. New Hampshire police were made aware of her disappearance late last year. Read more »

Dallas toddler mauled by coyote on front porch, hospitalized

The attack came less than a week after a coyote attacked a 2-year-old girl on Southern California’s Huntington Beach. The coyote was later shot dead. Read more »

Mechanical failure behind deadly Navy helicopter crash, military says

The helicopter fell into the sea and sank about 70 miles off San Diego. One crewmember was rescued and five were declared dead after a search. Read more »

Roe v. Wade live updates: Reactions to Supreme Court leaked abortion ruling

President Joe Biden has said “a woman’s right to choose is fundamental” and that his administration “will be ready when any ruling is issued.” Read more »

Missouri man executed after death sentence is overturned three times

Carman Deck was the fifth person to be executed in the United States this year. Read more »

Three suspects charged with murder in California gun fight that left 6 dead

Smiley Martin, Dandrae Martin and Mtula Payton have each been charged with three counts of murder in the shooting last month that also wounded 12. Read more »

‘Speak up, don't be ashamed': Activists who fought for Roe urge younger generation to keep fighting

“This is worse than going backward, it’s a trampling of established fundamental rights,” said a lawyer who worked on women’s rights issues through legal and grassroots movements before Roe. Read more »

He's protested abortions outside Mississippi's sole clinic for years. Now he might retire.

“I’ll probably get to fish,” said David Lane, an anti-abortion rights activist who demonstrates regularly outside the Jackson clinic at the center of the Supreme Court case. Read more »

Norman Mineta, pioneering Asian American who served in 2 presidential Cabinets, dies at 90

Mineta served under both Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican George W. Bush. Read more »

Latino abortion rights advocates warn of ‘dark times' if Roe v. Wade is reversed

The impact of the Supreme Court decision would "fall hardest on those who already struggle to access health care, including abortion," says a national abortion rights leader. Read more »

Daughter of 'Jane Roe' fears overturning decision 'could take us back 50 years' 

Melissa Mills, eldest daughter of Norma McCorvey, said whether to have an abortion "shouldn’t be anybody else’s choice but that woman who needs to make that decision." Read more »

Anti-abortion activist climbs San Francisco skyscraper, arrested on trespassing charges

Maison Des Champs, 22, was detained by police on top of Salesforce Tower, America's 12th tallest building, and booked for alleged trespassing and resisting arrest. Read more »

Relationships between corrections officers and inmates are 'a very common story'

The Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Office confirmed there was a “special relationship” between corrections officer Vicky White and suspect Casey White, who disappeared together last week. Read more »

What the latest omicron subvariants mean for reinfection risk

In the U.S., the BA.2.12.1 subvariant is gaining a foothold, while South Africa is seeing a surge in cases from two other subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5. Read more »

Decomposed body found in barrel on shore of shrinking Lake Mead

Investigators believe the victim was killed between the 1970s and 1980s based on the clothes and shoes found on the body, police said. Read more »

Leader of the Mississippi abortion clinic at the center of the SCOTUS case may move to New Mexico if Roe is overturned

Shannon Brewer, director of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, told NBC News she is considering opening a clinic in New Mexico if the Supreme Court allows Mississippi to further restrict abortion. Read more »

Fox breaks into bird habitat and kills 25 flamingos at Smithsonian National Zoo

There were 74 flamingos in the Washington, D.C., zoo's flock prior to the attack, authorities said. Read more »

State seeks death penalty for Lori Vallow, charged with killing her children

The Idaho woman last month pleaded not guilty to the murder charges against her. Read more »

Man working on Ferris wheel falls to death at Jersey Shore amusement park, officials say

Robert Sanger, 62, a subcontractor working on a lift at Gillian’s Wonderland Pier, "suffered a fatal injury Monday morning," the amusement park’s president said. Read more »

Brittney Griner now considered 'wrongfully detained' in Russia, U.S. officials say

The change in official classification means the U.S. will be more aggressive in its efforts to secure the WNBA star's release. Read more »