The importance of scheduled play time

Active play is a product of children’s natural inclination to be active, creative, and imaginative. It can take many forms, such as using playground equipment at school or parks and playing active games with friends at recess. When children engage in active play they are free to move in ways they select on their own without formal structure from adults. Research provides evidence that children may engage in more moderate-to-vigorous intensity activity during free play than during organized physical activities [47-49]. One study reported that children’s moderate-to-vigorous physical activity levels during outdoor organized activities were, on average, 55% lower than when children were engaged in unorganized outdoor activities. Children spent approximately 53% of free play time and 20% of organized play time engaged in moderate-to-vigorous activity [47].

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Regular school recess provides a unique opportunity to increase active play and physical activity among school-aged children. During a 15-minute recess, students may accumulate approximately 7 minutes of their recommended daily physical activity. Research indicates that modifying existing playgrounds and recess spaces with colored concrete markings or sports equipment can increase the amount of physical activity students engage in during reces. A recent review, which aimed to quantify the increase in physical activity resulting from school0-based policy and environment interventions, found modifying recess areas by adding playground equipment or pavement markings for games significantly increased moderate-to-vigorous physical activity levels among students by 5 minutes per day, for a total recess contribution of approximately 12 minutes each day recess is offered [50-53]. Studies indicate
that requiring daily recess time during the day could increase the physical activity levels of the 34.7 million children enrolled in U.S. elementary and middle schools, but currently only 59% of U.S. school districts require elementary schools to provide regularly scheduled recess, see Figure 11 [54-56]. This is an improvement over levels reported in 2000 (46.3%).