Health topic: Physical Activity Health Promotion

Re-imagine recess

What's it about?

Recess is a regularly scheduled period within the school day when students take part in unstructured activities. It’s a time to move, play, think, create, imagine, socialize, and take a break.

Recess has incredible potential in school health. It’s not only a time to boost physical activity, but also an opportunity to grow positive relationships between students, and to help them practice social and emotional skills.


What’s involved?

There's no doubt that COVID-19 makes recess a bit different—but it can still be an active, inclusive, and fun part of the school day. Keep school health measures in place (like maintaining cohorts and disinfecting equipment between use), and try these science-based ideas.


Mix it up

Offer class cohorts options when it comes to recess equipment and spaces. For example, on a daily basis, give cohorts opportunity to try at least one of the following:

  • Game materials, like hoops, skipping ropes, flying discs, and targets
  • Sport gear, like balls, nets, pylons, ramps, and equipment
  • Fixed structures for climbing, sliding, and balancing
  • Natural spaces like fields, pathways, rocks, and gardens

Make sure that equipment used within a cohort is rigorously disinfected before it is shared with another group. Follow these cleaning tips for game materials and sport gear, and use Alberta guidance for playgrounds. Contact your AHS public health inspector if you have questions.

Studies show that separate activity zones—like free play zones, pavement games, and sport zones—can boost physical activity at recess. They’re also a great way to help keep cohorts together.

Try using painted lines, sidewalk chalk, or cones to create zones. Flags work well in the snow!


Commit to recess with policy

Develop a recess policy that:

  • Schedules recess at regular intervals
  • Ensures that recess is never withheld as a consequence for poor behaviour or school performance (recess is a right, not a privilege!)
  • Limits the likelihood of recess being cancelled for special events or activities
  • Identifies active options for students (both indoors and out) when the weather is cold or wet


Involve students in recess planning

Students’ perspectives, ideas, and natural instincts help shape meaningful recess experiences. Here are some important considerations:

  • If you can, let younger children play in unstructured, child-led ways—resist the temptation to direct or plan their activities.
  • Provide opportunities for older students to organize and lead recess cooperative games and activities, and help them adapt their ideas to meet health guidelines.
  • Be intentional about connecting with students who may not have had positive, inclusive recess experiences (like those new to Canada or those who have a physical disability). Help them to identify, address, and eliminate barriers that limit their full participation, or better yet: work with them to co-design more meaningful recess opportunities.

Student leadership is a core strategy for re-activating recess on cold weather days (both indoors and out!).

For ideas and inspiration, check out Cold weather recess planning from Ever Active Schools.


How it connects

When recess is an active and enjoyable experience, students tend to take more steps and move at more vigorous levels of intensity. They may also find it easier to focus and pay attention during instructional time, and to interact with peers in positive, pro-social ways.

You might also like these related topics:



Cold weather recess planning
Ever Active Schools

COVID-19 return to school considerations for recess
PHE Canada

Move & play at recess
Be Fit for Life Network

Unstructured play toolkit
Canadian Public Health Association


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