Withholding recess time as a form of punishment or for academic reasons may be detrimental to child development, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement. Aside from improvements in children’s attentiveness and behavior in school, safe, supervised recess gives them a chance for unstructured play and social interaction and creativity, the group said. 

Recess is good for a child’s body and mind, and withholding these regular breaks in the school day may be counterproductive to healthy child development, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ first policy statement on the issue.

Increasing pressures on schools to find more time for academics has resulted in “an erosion of recess time around the country,” says statement co-author Robert Murray, a professor of pediatrics at Ohio State University. “But we have a couple of decades of research now that indicates that recess plays a huge role in a child’s life, and not just because it’s fun.”

Safe and properly supervised recess offers children “cognitive, physical, emotional and social benefits,” he says, including better attention span, improved classroom behavior, and an important opportunity for free, unstructured play, creativity and interaction with other kids.

In fact, the policy statement recommends that recess never be withheld as a punishment or for academic reasons because the break serves a “crucial role” in a child’s development and social interaction.

About 73% of elementary schools provide regular recess for all grades, but “it’s difficult to quantify at a national level exactly how many schools are taking it away as a policy,” says Catherine Ramstetter, a health educator at The Christ College of Nursing and Health Sciences in Cincinnati and co-author of the statement.

Studies cited by the authors note that up to 40% of U.S. school districts have reduced or eliminated recess to allow more time for core academics, and one in four elementary schools no longer provides access to all grades.

In a 2010 Gallup Survey of 1,951 principals and other school officials, 77% reported eliminating recess as a punishment; one in five reported cutting recess time to meet testing requirements.