Road Map for K-12 Education - Recess and Physical Education

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Road Map for K-12 Education

Recess & Physical Education Summer, 2020 V.1.0

Recess & Physical Education Schools are experiencing an unprecedented time of change as they plan for how to maximize safety and minimize risk during COVID-19. The American Academy of Pediatrics (2020) submits that it will be critical to maintain a balanced curriculum with continued physical education and other learning experiences rather than an exclusive emphasis on core subject areas.ยน While PE and recess may be viewed as optional aspects to incorporate during the reimagined school day, we submit that based on the evidence and known health and developmental benefits to children, these opportunities for physical activity and play are not only essential to the school day, but without them, we exacerbate health disparities and promote an inequitable and unjust environment for our children.

Authors / Summer - 2020 Marlon J. Mussington, M.Ed. Physical Education Instructor Paul Cuffee Lower School Providence, Rhode Island

Lisa Roberts, MS Doctoral student The University of Pittsburgh Health and Physical Education Teacher McKean Elementary General McLane School District Edinboro, Pennsylvania

Sharon E. Taverno Ross, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Department of Health and Human Development The University of Pittsburgh, School of Education Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania E-mail:

Lauren M. Wheeler, MPH Health-Physical Education Teacher Minneapolis Public Schools Minneapolis, Minnesota


Recess and Physical Education Guidance

Physical activity guidelines The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that, in order to reap health benefits, children should be physically active for at least 60 minutes per day.² Children should engage in a variety of age-appropriate and enjoyable activities for their hearts, muscles, and bones. Every minute adds up, whether it’s 5-10 minutes at a time or two sessions of 30 minutes per day. However, there are disparities in children’s physical activity levels; those living in underserved neighborhoods are less likely to have access to parks and playgrounds, which contributes to lower physical activity.³ Children with disabilities also face additional barriers to engaging in appropriate and safe physical activity.⁴

Educational Adaptation

Health Promotion

Risk Mitigation


Role of schools in helping children meet guidelines Just as many children rely on schools for food, health care, social services and emotional stability, children also rely on schools to provide the majority of their daily physical activity through recess and physical education (PE) class.⁵ According to a review of interventions to increase physical activity in youth in the school setting, sufficient evidence was found that PE class increases physical activity in children.⁶

In fact, one study that examined different contributors to children’s moderate-to-vigorous physical activity across the school day found that children accumulated the most minutes in PE class (24 minutes) and classroom activity breaks (19 minutes).⁷ All students have the right to be physically active at school. Uniquely, the school environment can provide a safe and developmentally appropriate space for children living in undeserved neighborhoods or those with special needs to be active.


Recess and Physical Education Guidance

Benefits of physical activity (physical and mental health) Physical activity has numerous documented and well-established benefits for children’s mental and physical health.⁸ Children with physical and intellectual disabilities also greatly benefit from physical activity at home and school.⁹ Benefit 01 ― Physical activity can help improve bone health, fitness, and heart health, and reduce the risk of depression and anxiety.¹⁰ Benefit 02 ― Children who are physically active reduce their risk of developing obesity and risk factors for diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Of particular interest to schools, there is evidence to support the beneficial effects of physical activity on children’s cognition, specifically performance on academic achievement tests, executive function, processing speed, and memory.

Benefit 03 ― Research shows that children with disabilities benefit physically and intellectually from regular participation in physical activity.¹¹ Benefit 04 ― School-based physical activity not only benefits children, but participating adults, teachers, and staff can also reap benefits.¹² Adults who engage in physical activity are also modeling healthy behavior for young children.¹³


Above: Whole Community, Whole School, Whole Child Framework. Adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Recess and Physical Education Guidance

Benefits of play for (social/emotional) development There is additional compelling literature touting the numerous and independent benefits of recess for a child’s cognitive, emotional, physical, and social well-being.¹⁴ Not only does recess provide a break from the cognitive demands of classroom learning, children are able to rest, play, think, imagine, move, and socialize.¹⁵ After recess, students are refreshed and more attentive and productive in the classroom. Indoor or outdoor recreation during the school day is also beneficial for adults/teachers as it provides a healthy outlet to relieve stress and an environment where they can engage with children outside of the rigors of the classroom and foster improved relationships. However, there has been a trend for schools to limit time spent in recess, whether to accommodate additional time in academic subjects or for punitive or behavioral reasons.¹⁶, ¹⁷ Allotted recess time also decreases with age and is lower for children of lower socioeconomic status and in urban schools.

Conclusion Physical activity is essential for children’s health and well-being. Their social, emotional, physical, and mental health is dependent on their ability to move and play. Childhood and adolescence are critical periods for developing movement skills, learning healthy habits, and establishing a firm foundation for lifelong health and well-being.¹⁸ We strongly recommend that schools are part of the solution. It is critical for educators—those responsible for the physical and emotional well-being of students—to create safe spaces that meet the physical, social and emotional needs of all students. We have provided tools and suggestions for how to incorporate physical activity into the school day that align with the CDC’s guidance for K-12 schools. Check out guidance for Reducing Cross-Contamination and Strategies for Supporting Social and Emotional Learning. 7

― References ¹ American Academy of Pediatrics. (2020). COVID-19 Planning Considerations: Return to In-person Education in Schools. Retrieved from https://services.aap. org/en/pages/2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-infections/clinical-guidance/ covid-19-planning-considerations-return-to-in-person-education-in-schools/ ² U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2018). Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Retrieved from Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. ³ Watson, K. B., Harris, C. D., Carlson, S. A., Dorn, J. M., & Fulton, J. E. (2016). Disparities in Adolescents’ Residence in Neighborhoods Supportive of Physical Activity — United States, 2011– 2012. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep, 65, 598–601. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6523a2 ⁴ Bremer, E., Crozier, M., & Lloyd, M. (2016). A systematic review of the behavioural outcomes following exercise interventions for children and youth with autism spectrum disorder. Autism, 20(8), 899-915. doi:10.1177/1362361315616002 ⁵ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Physical Education and Physical Activity. CDC Healthy Schools. Retrieved from physicalactivity/index.htm ⁶ Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Midcourse Report Subcommittee of the President’s Council on Fitness Sports and Nutrition. (2012). Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Midcourse Report: Strategies to Increase Physical Activity Among Youth. Retrieved from Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. ⁷ Bassett, D. R., Fitzhugh, E. C., Heath, G. W., Erwin, P. C., Frederick, G. M., Wolff, D. L., . . . Stout, A. B. (2013). Estimated energy expenditures for school-based policies and active living. Am J Prev Med, 44(2), 108-113. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2012.10.017 ⁸ U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2018). Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Retrieved from Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. ⁹ Shields, N., & Synnot, A. (2016). Perceived barriers and facilitators to participation in physical activity for children with disability: a qualitative study. BMC Pediatrics, 16(1), 9. doi:10.1186/ s12887-016-0544-7 ¹⁰ U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2018). Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Retrieved from Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. ¹¹ L ang, R., Koegel, L. R., Ashbaugh, K., Regester, A., Ence, W., & Smith, W. (2010). Physical exercise and individuals with autism spectrum disorders: A systematic review. Res Autism Spectr Disords, 4, 565-576. ¹² U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2018). Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Retrieved from Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. ¹³ Beauchamp, M. R., Liu, Y., Morton, K. L., Martin, L. J., Wilson, A. H., Wilson, A. J., . . . Barling, J. (2014). Transformational teaching and adolescent physical activity: multilevel and mediational effects. Int J Behav Med, 21(3), 537-546. doi:10.1007/s12529-013-9321-2


Recess and Physical Education Guidance

― References ¹⁴ Murray, R., & Ramstetter, C. (2013). The crucial role of recess in school. Pediatrics, 131(1), 183-188. doi:10.1542/peds.2012-2993 ¹⁵ National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education. (2002). Recess and the Importance of Play: A Position Statement on Young Children and Recess. Retrieved from Washington, DC: National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education. ¹⁶ Alexander, S. A., Barnett, T. A., & Fitzpatrick, C. (2017). Are inequalities produced through the differential access to play opportunities at school? A call to level the playing field. Can J Public Health, 107(6), e583-e585. doi:10.17269/cjph.107.5471 ¹⁷ Henley, J., McBride, J., Milligan, J., & Nichols, J. (2007). Robbing elementary students of their childhood: the perils of No Child Left Behind. Education, 128(1):56–63. ¹⁸ U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2018). Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Retrieved from Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


We are here to assist you in your return to school. For more information, please contact: Š 2020 The guidance provided on this site is based on the available information as of the date of publication and does not replace federal, state, or local public health recommendations but aggregates best practices and innovative solutions at the intersection of buildings and school health. We encourage schools to reach out and seek expert advice on their unique circumstances.