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Why Recess is Important for SEL


Kids at recess

As the warmer temperatures begin to roll across the country, most kids in school simply can’t wait to get outside and play.  My favorite time in school was always recess. However, for many children recess is a time wrought with fears of social engagements and anxiety of being ridiculed on the playground.  Being picked last or not at all for a quick game of kickball or basketball can leave a lasting impression on the social confidence of a child.  Teachers are often quick to address the obvious conflicts, however what happens on subtle level may often be left unchecked

kid's anxietyMedical and health related literature overwhelmingly supports the need for children to play multiple times a day.  In fact, the CDC recommends that children under age 12 engage in at least 60 minutes of daily vigorous physical activity.  Recess is recommended for four periods per day with a minimum of 15 minutes per recess session.  Sadly, the average combined recess time for most elementary school aged children is less than 25 minutes per day.  Lack of physical activity can lead to increased sedentary behavior, anxiety and poor self-esteem.

Recess provides a much-needed opportunity to engage in vigorous play while interacting with peers outside of the classroom setting.  For most, this is a great way to build positive relationships.  Having the social and emotional skill set, let alone the play skills, are difficult for some and often lead to anxiety and lack of engagement.  

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) at recess involves creating a safe, supportive, and inclusive environment where students can practice and develop their social and emotional skills while engaging in physical activity and play. 

 Here are some ways in which teaches can incorporate SEL into recess:


    Encourage students to interact with others and make new friends. This can help develop social awareness and relationship skills.

    ACTIVITY: Sidewalk chalk obstacle course!  Using stencils have the kids create their own movement pathway for the entire school.

    ST Tessellation Maze - Kids In Use 1

    Encourage cooperative play and teamwork by providing games or activities that require students to work together, communicate effectively, and show empathy for others.


    ACTIVITY: Four square.  This popular game has hundreds of variations.  The object of the game is to eliminate players in higher numbered squares so you get to the top ranking, 4th square. Your kids will love it!

    ST Four Square - Kids In Use 7


    Teach students conflict resolution skills, such as active listening, compromising, and problem-solving. Encourage students to resolve conflicts peacefully and respectfully.

    ACTIVITY: Buddy Circle. Use this much like you would use a "talking bench"; to help children work out differences. The words are great reminders of what students should do to engage in appropriate social emotional skills! Read this Blog that explains the Buddy Circle and it's importance in detail.

    ST Buddy Circle 2

    Provide opportunities for students to practice self-regulation skills, such as managing emotions and behaviors in a positive way. This can help promote self-awareness and self-management.


    ACTIVITY: Peace Path gives students a chance to resolve conflicts peacefully, literally “step by step.” It allows adults to lessen their involvement, or be involved in more meaningful ways while empowering students to settle their own disagreements fairly with both parties being heard

Peace Path Application 2
    Create a culture of inclusion by celebrating diversity and encouraging students to embrace differences. This can help develop social awareness and empathy for others.

ACTIVITY: Inspirational Words. Use a game toss or bean bag, and have children toss onto the painted words. Once landed on a word, have them spell, say and/ or explain to group what the word means to them. This can be expanded to creating poetry or creative writing projects.



Overall, incorporating SEL into recess can help students develop the skills they need to navigate social situations, build positive relationships, and promote a culture of respect and inclusion.


Let's listen to Dr. Tim Davis talk about these topics.





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