Survey Finds Large Recess Disparity, Parents Want More Recess in Washington State

SEATTLE–Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023–A bill filed in the Washington State legislature last week and co-sponsored by Senators T’wina Nobles (D-Fircrest) and Claire Wilson (D-Auburn) would ensure students receive a minimum of 45 minutes of recess during each school day. There is currently no Washington state law guaranteeing recess for students.

“Kids not only deserve play, it is critical for their development,” said Nobles. “Withholding recess, especially as a disciplinary action, does the opposite effect–research shows it makes behavior worse. Research shows students learn better when they get recess and as we tackle learning loss as a result of remote learning, we need to bolster betterment for our students in every way we can.”

Senate Bill 5257 would also direct the Washington State School Directors Association to create a model policy that encourages physical activity breaks for middle and high school, pushes for recess before lunch in elementary school, bans the use of physical activity as punishment and strongly discourages withholding recess for disciplinary or academic reasons. The bill is scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Early Learning & K-12 Education on Wednesday, Jan. 18, at 1:30 p.m.

“There has never been a more important time to invest in recess. Our kids have experienced trauma, anxiety and isolation during this pandemic,” said Dr. Monique Burton, MD, Medical Director of Sports Medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital and parent of two elementary school students.

Extensive research demonstrates the positive effects of recess, which include:
– Lower cortisol levels and reduced stress/anxiety
– Better social skills and problem-solving
– Improved physical health
– Improved memory, attention and concentration
– Improved time on-task and reduced disruptive behavior while in the classroom

“Research clearly shows the benefits of recess for children. Consistent, predictable recess time helps children reduce stress, form social connections at school and get their brains more ready to learn,” said Dr. William Massey, recess researcher and assistant professor of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University.

According to recent research by the King County Play Equity Coalition, wide disparities exist between the amount of recess Washington state elementary school students receive. The survey of 580 elementary and middle school parents across 16 counties was conducted in 2022.

Findings from that survey include:
– 75 percent of parents believe their child does not receive enough recess.
– Amounts of elementary school recess ranged from fewer than 10 minutes to more than 50 minutes daily; 35 percent of elementary school students receive 30 minutes or less of daily recess, according to parents surveyed
– 41 percent of parents surveyed said their child’s school withholds recess; an additional 31 percent were unsure if the practice of withholding was happening at their school
– 72 percent of elementary school parents surveyed think students should have at least 40 minutes of recess

More than 20 states have state recess or physical activity laws already in place, including Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Illinois, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and West Virginia.

A report by the King County Play Equity Coalition in 2019—the State of Play Report—found that only 19 percent of youth in King County regularly receive 60 minutes of daily physical activity. The Centers for Disease Control recommends 60 minutes of moderate to rigorous physical activity daily for youth ages 6-17.

Recess counts as instructional minutes in Washington state public schools, so additional recess time does not require lengthening the school day.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Recess is a necessary break in the day for optimizing a child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development. In essence, recess should be considered a child’s personal time, and it should not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons. To be effective, the frequency and duration of breaks should be sufficient to allow the student to mentally decompress. Recess can serve as a counterbalance to sedentary time and contribute to the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day, a standard strongly supported by AAP policy as a means to lessen risk of overweight.”

Organizations part of the Recess for Washington coalition include:

– Action for Healthy Kids
– Active Schools
– All Girl Everything
– BestStart Washington
– Bras for Girls
– Communities in Schools Washington
– Global Recess Alliance
– Girls on the Run Puget Sound
– King County Play Equity Coalition
– One Roof Foundation
– PlayWorks
– Special Olympics Washington
– Sports in Schools
– Successful Healthy Children
– The Sports Institute at UW Medicine
– Upower
– Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics
– Washington Education Association (WEA)

Individual supporters include:
– Mandy Manning, 2018 National Teacher of the Year
– Dr. Pooja Tandon, MD, Seattle Children’s Hospital and University of Washington
– Dr. Rebecca London, UC Santa Cruz, Author of Rethinking Recess: Creating Safe and Inclusive Playtime for All Children in School
– Dr. William Massey, PhD, Associate Professor, Oregon State University
– Dr. Monique Burton, MD, Medical Director of Sports Medicine, Seattle Children’s Hospital
– Denisha Jones, PhD, J.D., Executive Director of Defending the Early Years
– Dr. Julie McCleery, PhD, University of Washington
– Anna Beresin, PhD, Professor Psychology and Folklore, the University of the Arts, author of Recess Battles: Playing, Fighting, and Storytelling; and The Art of Play: Recess and the Practice of Invention.
– Elizabeth Weybright, PhD
– Karla Landis, Associate Director, The Sports Institute at UW Medicine
– Asia Wisecarver, Executive Director, Playworks PACNW
– Linnea Westerlind, Outdoor Childhood Puget Sound, Washington State PTA member
– Emily Carter, Special Olympics Washington
– Maya Manus, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle
– Marisa Patrick, Program Director, Upower
– Adrienne Moore, Center For Healing and Justice Through Sport
– Hana Kawai, All Girl Everything Ultimate Program (AGE UP)
– Gabbi Gonzales, Recreation Coordinator, City of Burien

About Recess for Washington
Recess for Washington is a statewide grassroots coalition made up of researchers, parents, educators, advocates and community-based organizations advocating for policy changes that ensure all students receive equitable recess access during the school day. The coalition champions recess because it has been proven to support the mental, physical and emotional health of our kids. The King County Play Equity Coalition provides primary leadership. Learn more and get involved at

About the King County Play Equity Coalition
The King County Play Equity Coalition is a network of Seattle-area cross-sector organizations engaged in collective action to transform our region into a place where all youth—especially youth from historically underserved groups furthest from play equity—experience the physical,

social and emotional benefits of play, sports, outdoor recreation and physical activity. The coalition includes more than 115 members representing nonprofit and community-based organizations, school districts, neighborhood groups, businesses, government agencies and professional sports teams. Learn more at

Photos of kids playing
For permission to photograph at a Seattle school during the school day, please contact SPS Media Relations

Media contact:
Julie McCleery
King County Play Equity Coalition