Alternatives to Taking Away Recess

Recess is an essential part of the school day and important when considering culturally responsive strategies that benefit all of our students. Some benefits of recess include:

  • After recess, for children or after a corresponding break time for adolescents, students are more attentive and better able to perform cognitively.

  • Recess helps young children to develop social skills that are otherwise not acquired in the more structured classroom environment.

  • Through play at recess, children learn valuable communication skills, including negotiation, cooperation, sharing, and problem-solving as well as coping skills, such as perseverance and self-control.

Looking at the statistics on taking away recess, we see demographic disparities:

A nationwide study on how first through fifth-grade children spend their time at school found that on a randomly selected day, 21% of children did not have any recess (Roth et al. 2003).  

  • 39% of African American students versus 15% of White students did not have recess

  • 44% of children living below the poverty line versus 17% of those above the poverty line were deprived of recess

  • 25% of the children scoring below the mean on a standardized test versus 15% of those above the mean did not have recess.

In addition, we see a trend in specific students who are always losing recess. Punishments and rewards are motivational systems, and our students need to be driven by the motivation for them to work. Students affected by trauma or those that lack proper social and emotional skills are often not successful with motivational systems.

All of the data brought us to realize that taking away recess is not effective in changing or improving behavior. In fact, it may make the behaviors worse.

So we found a better way: structured yoga classes during recess time.

This structured time is done in a special way:

  1. Students learn what yoga is from practicing brain breaks with their classroom teacher.

    1. More on Brain Breaks from Yoga Ed. here:

  2. Students are given the option to participate in recess yoga with a friend as a REWARD. This allows us to give extra attention to the well-behaved or quiet students.

  3. Once students are excited to receive recess yoga as a reward we offer the option to students who need a behavior check-in. Those that normally would have to sit out of recess or may be heading that way after lunch.

  4. Then we have a great mix of well-behaved students and students who need the extra modeling and mindfulness that the class will offer.

  5. During class, we check in on behavior and give strategies and tools to “fix” what has been going that day. We always say that yoga class gives us a chance to clear our brains and start over for the day if we need to.

Structuring class this way makes sure yoga is not seen as a punishment but also allows those that really need it to get it.

This strategy does require an adult, preferably one who has the option to add yoga classes into their regular schedule: counselors, social workers, OTs, PTs, Special Ed. teachers, ESL Teachers, Reading Specialists, and anyone else in your school with a semi-flexible schedule. Or if you are a classroom teacher you can rotate teaching the classes with your team. A yoga break is good for us too! 

For more information on training to teach yoga in schools visit:

Michigan area teachers: we have two training options coming up this Winter:

What about you? Do you see this option working in your school?