How would children improve school recess? A qualitative focus group exploration

Recess is an important opportunity for child development. Recess is generally the only unstructured time during the school day where children can focus on play, fun, and socialization. Children have valuable perspectives of recess, which can totally be used to inform recess itself!

However, when it comes to recess, adults have significantly more decision making power around recess than children. Recess is for children, but adults make all the decisions. How can we get children more involved? Can we ask their opinions?

2PLAY lab sought to explore children’s perceptions and recommendations for improving recess. We then made an effort to translate findings into practical solutions that can be used by schools.

We went to four public elementary schools in three rural school districts in the Pacific Northwest. These schools serve mostly White and Latinx families in low-to-middle income brackets. We held 17 focus groups, and 89 elementary students in 2nd through 5th grade volunteered to participate. They shared their valuable opinions of recess.

  • Following data collection, a content analysis was conducted. Two themes were developed that highlighted important areas of dissonance.
    1. First, while recess was coded as a place of socialization, this included both positive (i.e., friendships) and negative (i.e., bullying, exclusion) socializing influences.
    2. Second, while children discussed a need for rules and rule enforcement at recess, they often did not understand the reasoning behind rules and recognized different adults enforced varying rules.
  • To help alleviate these areas of dissonance, children made recommendations for improving recess:
    • Children want more access to recess (i.e., more frequent and longer recess periods)
    • They want more inclusive and nontraditional recess activities — like drawing and board games
    • They ask for boundaries between areas of the playground
    • Students want to use their voice to help shaping the rules that govern recess
    • They also want consistent adult implementation of those rules

Overall, the focus groups show that children are aware of both the problems and solutions relating to recess. Their perspectives can provide valuable insight during intervention planning.

This work included the help of the following 2PLAY lab members: Janelle K. Thalken, Isabella Ozenbaugh, Maya Trajkovski, Alexandra Szarabajko, & William V. Massey

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