Recess: a Tool to Enhance Students’ Social Skills and Relationships

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Children playing and developing their social skills on a playground

Recess gives kids a break from the classroom, an often challenging environment in today’s educational landscape. It plays a crucial role in a child’s school day by offering time for unstructured play, allowing students time to unwind, get outside, run around and experience pure fun. That said, recess is also a time for students to develop their social skills and build relationships with their classmates.

If offered in a safe, exciting space, recess can be used to promote social skills and relationships among students in so many ways. Children naturally develop social skills through free play, though educators and administrators can very much help aid in the process.

Inclusive Play Spaces

Creating inclusive play spaces is an important part in the development of students’ social skills. Children of all abilities should feel welcomed and have the chance to be a part of the play experience. Games that encourage teamwork and collaboration will help foster a sense of community. Designing play spaces that are adaptable to everyone’s needs allows children to recognize and meaningfully interact with their peers of all abilities.

A Model for Positive Behavior

Educators play a part in the process by serving as role models for positive behavior, helping when conflicts arise, and taking part in games and activities. Their presence and involvement show the importance of fostering social skills while also building strong relationships in and out of the classroom.

A study by Oregon State University found that adults are one of the most important entities on the playground. The more adults engage with and play with students at recess, the more kids play. There is more physical activity and fewer conflicts arise. Schools that ranked highly on these measures saw associated positive outcomes in classroom behavior and socio-emotional markers.

Skill Building

Recess encourages a culture of community and belonging, stemming from interactions that bring about other valuable skills related to communication and socialization:

  • Leadership
  • Cooperation
  • Compromise
  • Sharing
  • Conflict resolution
  • Problem-solving
  • Coping skills
  • Negotiation
  • Perseverance

Teaching Conflict Resolution

Recess is an opportunity for students to learn how to navigate social conflicts on their own and with supervision. It is vital for students to learn how to overcome their own disagreements. When needed, supervisors can step in to help reach a positive resolution. Having games and activities that incorporate conflict resolution as a regular part of play is another way to help grow these skills.

ESSER funding, provided under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, can be allocated for playground improvements as part of efforts to ensure safe and healthy learning environments for students. ESSER III funds must be committed by Sept. 30, 2024. District leaders have flexibility when it comes to how best to use them to meet the needs of their school communities.

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