Georgia Becomes 10th State to Mandate This Fun Extracurricular for Kids

Recess is often taken away from kids as a punishment mechanism in schools. But taking it away is about to become illegal.

a kid plays on the swings as the sun shines behind them
Annie Otzen / Getty Images

This week, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed a bill requiring all K-5 schools to provide students with unstructured break time every school day — in other words, recess is now law.

“Beginning in the 2022-2023 school year, each elementary school shall schedule recess for all students in kindergarten and grades one through five every school day,” reads the bill.

The bill doesn’t offer guidelines on how long students should spend at recess and also makes allowances for weather, teacher-led games, activities, and field trips, and isn’t required on days students have P.E. Still, considering many Atlanta schools did away with recess entirely in the late 1990s, the new law is a huge step in the right direction. But there’s also scientific reasoning for mandating that kids get unstructured play time every single day.

Georgia is only the 10th state to require schools to provide elementary students have recess, joining Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Missouri, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The mandate comes as parents and advocates have pushed back against teachers canceling recess to focus more on academics or, paradoxically, as a disciplinary measure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that students exhibit better concentration, focus, memory, and retention after an unstructured play break — so taking it away as punishment when kids are misbehaving may actually backfire on teachers and harm kids.

Even if children aren’t actively playing, an unstructured break provides benefits to social and emotional development. “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,” explained the study authors. “These skills become fundamental, lifelong personal tools. Recess offers a child a necessary, socially structured means for managing stress. By adapting and adjusting to the complex school environment, children augment and extend their cognitive development in the classroom.”

The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day and has been advocating for recess for years. “Recess is a necessary break in the day for optimizing a child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development,” the AAP wrote in 2013. “In essence, recess should be considered a child’s personal time, and it should not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons.”

Other states are recognizing the disconnect between taking away recess as a disciplinary action and expecting children to thrive in the classroom. Legislators in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and Minnesota have recently introduced bills that would prohibit schools or teachers from canceling recess as punishment.