First-of-Its-Kind Gallup Poll Links Recess to Academic Achievement

Principals say recess has a positive impact on learning; students are more focused, listen better after recess

Feb 04, 2010, 08:00 ET from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 /PRNewswire/ -- When most people talk about how to improve education, they tend to focus only on what happens in the classroom. But a new Gallup poll of elementary school principals suggests that the most unexpected opportunity to boost learning may exist outside on the playground at recess.

The first-of-its-kind survey of almost 2,000 principals nationwide, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, National Association of Elementary School Principals and Playworks, revealed enthusiastic support for recess among principals, who see it benefiting kids both in the classroom and in life.

Key findings from the survey include:

  • Four out of five principals report that recess has a positive impact on academic achievement.
  • Two-thirds of principals report that students listen better after recess and are more focused in class.
  • Virtually all believe that recess has a positive impact on children's social development (96 percent) and general well-being (97 percent).

"This research sends a clear message to anyone interested in improving education or the overall well-being of America's children: it's time to take recess seriously," said Jane Lowe, team director for the Vulnerable Populations Portfolio at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "Recess should no longer be treated as an afterthought but as a core part of any strategy for promoting learning and improving health."

Recess has traditionally served as the one outlet during the school day when children can recharge their bodies and minds. But those minutes have been steadily eroding. According to the poll, one in five principals report cutting recess minutes to meet testing requirements. Still, this research shows that even a little recess can have a big impact on the school day.

"Principals know that students' academic development is inextricably connected to their physical, social, and emotional well-being, and they support recess as a crucial element of learning that sustains the whole child," said NAESP Executive Director Gail Connelly. "As primary catalysts for creating lasting foundations for learning, principals are key in determining and nurturing what works for children in schools — in both the classroom and on the playground."

Recess doesn't come without challenges. Because it is often disorganized and difficult to manage, recess is the time when principals encounter the vast majority of their school's disciplinary problems.

"Recess offers an extraordinary opportunity to improve a school's climate," said Jill Vialet, founder and president of Playworks, a national nonprofit and grantee of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that helps schools improve their recess. "Just a little bit of training for staff can go a long way in helping schools dramatically reduce disciplinary problems at recess and direct more attention to teaching and learning."  

For more information or to receive an executive summary of the poll's findings, contact Jenny Park at, 415-901-0111.

SOURCE Robert Wood Johnson Foundation