Study: Recess Can Be Highly Beneficial For Kids — Depending On The Playground Experience

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Daily recess offers children more than just a mere break from the educational demands of school. Previous research has shown that outdoor playtime improves students’ social and emotional development, but it takes more than just any old sliding board and sandbox. A recent study finds that schools must provide children with an all-around high-quality playground experience in order for them to reap the benefits.

Researchers from Oregon State University say factors like playground safety, peer conflict resolution, access to play equipment, and quality engagement between adults and students contribute to the quality recess experience.

“Kids are inherently wired to play and they need recess,” says lead author William Massey, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences, in a university release. “But we can’t just think of recess in terms of having it or not having it. Recess can be good for child development, but it also can be an absolute disaster if not done well.”

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Massey and his research team developed what they call “The Great Recess Framework,” a 17-item observational tool used to assess the overall recess experience of students. The authors evaluated everything from access to safety and structural equipment, the availability of organized games, how engaged the adults were with children as they played, student behavior, student-adult ratio, and more.

Using the framework, the authors applied the model to recess at 495 schools across 22 urban areas in the U.S. during the fall of 2016. Researchers agreed that observing three days of recess sessions gave the most consistent results.

Results showed that children had the best playground experience when they had a greater selection of equipment and games, as well as more adults playing or engaging with them. Also, when more children were able to resolve conflicts with their peers and when there were fewer incidents of violence and bullying, the quality of the experience was also better.

“Do the kids have things to play with? Are they resolving their own conflicts? Are the adult supervisors engaged?” says Massey. “Our data suggests that engaged adults are critical to the flow of a high quality recess.”

The study is published in the journal BMC Public Health.

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