Playing fair: the contribution of high-functioning recess to overall school climate in low-income elementary schools

J Sch Health. 2015 Jan;85(1):53-60. doi: 10.1111/josh.12216.


Background: Recess is a part of the elementary school day with strong implications for school climate. Positive school climate has been linked to a host of favorable student outcomes, from attendance to achievement. We examine 6 low-income elementary schools' experiences implementing a recess-based program designed to provide safe, healthy, and inclusive play to study how improving recess functioning can affect school climate.

Methods: Data from teacher, principal, and recess coach interviews; student focus groups; recess observations; and a teacher survey are triangulated to understand the ways that recess changed during implementation. Comparing schools that achieved higher- and lower-functioning recesses, we link recess functioning with school climate.

Results: Recess improved in all schools, but 4 of the 6 achieved a higher-functioning recess. In these schools, teachers and principals agreed that by the end of the year, recess offered opportunities for student engagement, conflict resolution, pro-social skill development, and emotional and physical safety. Respondents in these four schools linked these changes to improved overall school climate.

Conclusions: Recess is an important part of the school day for contributing to school climate. Creating a positive recess climate helps students to be engaged in meaningful play and return to class ready to learn.

Keywords: emotional safety; physical safety; play; recess; school climate.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Faculty
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Organizational Innovation
  • Organizations, Nonprofit
  • Play and Playthings / psychology*
  • Poverty
  • Program Evaluation
  • San Francisco
  • Schools*
  • Students / psychology*