For many, recess represents a fond memory from elementary school – running around the playground during a break from classes. But do high school students also get to enjoy recess? Surprisingly, the answer isn’t as straightforward as you may think.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: While most high schools do not have traditional recess periods, some do incorporate brief breaks or free periods during the day when students can socialize and take a mental break from academics.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take a detailed look at recess practices in high schools. We’ll explore the history of high school recess, reasons why many schools have done away with open recess periods, and examples of high schools that still offer modified versions of recess.

A Brief History of Recess in High Schools

Recess, that cherished break from classroom learning, is often associated with elementary schools. But what about high schools? Do they have recess too? Let’s take a closer look at the history of recess in high schools to find out.


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Recess Used to Be Common in High Schools

Believe it or not, recess used to be a common occurrence in high schools. Back in the early 20th century, high schools recognized the importance of physical activity and play for students’ overall well-being.

Recess provided a much-needed break from the rigors of academic study and allowed students to recharge both physically and mentally. It was a time for socializing, engaging in physical activities, and simply having fun.

During recess, students could participate in various activities such as playing sports, walking, or simply socializing with their peers. It was seen as an essential part of the school day and was highly valued by both students and educators.

Shift Away from Recess in the 20th Century

However, as the 20th century progressed, high schools started to shift away from the practice of having recess. This change was influenced by various factors, including a greater emphasis on academic achievement, standardized testing, and the need to cover more curriculum content within limited time frames.

High schools began to prioritize academic instruction over physical activity, resulting in reduced or eliminated recess periods. The focus shifted towards longer class periods and more structured learning environments, leaving little room for unstructured playtime.

Reasons for Phasing Out High School Recess

Several reasons have been cited for the phasing out of recess in high schools. One primary reason is the belief that high school students are more mature and capable of managing their time effectively without the need for a designated break.

Another reason is the perception that recess may lead to disruptions, decreased productivity, or even safety concerns.

Additionally, with the increasing demands of academic performance and college preparation, high schools have felt the pressure to maximize instructional time. This often means sacrificing recess to ensure sufficient time for core subjects and extracurricular activities.

It’s worth noting that not all high schools have completely eliminated recess. Some schools still incorporate short breaks or physical activity periods into their daily schedules. However, these instances are becoming less common as the focus on academic achievement continues to grow.

Why Most High Schools Don’t Offer Traditional Recess

When it comes to recess, many people associate it with elementary schools. It’s a time for young children to run around, play games, and socialize with their peers. However, when students transition to high school, the concept of recess often disappears.

So, why do most high schools not offer traditional recess?

1. Increased Academic Demands

One of the main reasons high schools don’t offer recess is due to the increased academic demands placed on students. High school curriculum tends to be more rigorous and time-consuming compared to elementary school.

Students have to juggle multiple subjects, homework assignments, and extracurricular activities, leaving little room for a designated recess period.

2. Limited Time and Scheduling Constraints

High school schedules are often packed with classes, specialized programs, and electives. With limited time available, schools prioritize academic instruction over recess. Teachers and administrators strive to cover all the necessary material within the allocated time, making it challenging to incorporate a recess period into the daily schedule.

3. Focus on Individual Responsibility

As students progress through high school, there is a greater emphasis on individual responsibility and self-management. High school students are expected to take ownership of their time and use breaks between classes for relaxation and socialization.

This shift in responsibility aims to prepare them for the demands of college and the workforce.

4. Promoting a Mature Environment

High schools strive to create a more mature and focused environment for students. By eliminating traditional recess, schools aim to foster a culture of productivity and concentration. This change reflects the transition from childhood to young adulthood, where students are encouraged to prioritize their studies and prepare for their future.

It’s important to note that while high schools may not offer traditional recess, they recognize the importance of physical activity and socialization. Many schools provide opportunities for students to engage in physical education classes, sports teams, clubs, and extracurricular activities, which serve as alternatives to traditional recess.

These activities not only promote physical well-being but also encourage teamwork, leadership, and personal growth.


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Exceptions: Types of Modified Recess in Some High Schools

While recess is typically associated with elementary schools, there are some high schools that have implemented modified versions of recess to provide students with a break from their academic studies.

These modified recess periods may take different forms depending on the school’s policies and schedules. Let’s take a closer look at some of the common types of modified recess in high schools.

Open Campus Policies

Some high schools have open campus policies that allow students to leave the school premises during designated break times. This gives students the freedom to take a break from their studies and engage in activities outside of school.

They may choose to grab a snack from a nearby café, visit a local park, or simply enjoy some fresh air. Open campus policies can provide students with a sense of autonomy and responsibility while taking a break from their academic responsibilities.

Staggered Breaks Between Classes

In high schools with staggered breaks between classes, students are given short breaks throughout the day. These breaks can range from 5 to 10 minutes and are strategically placed between classes. This allows students to stretch their legs, socialize with their peers, and recharge before their next class.

Staggered breaks can help prevent students from feeling overwhelmed by long periods of continuous learning and can improve their overall focus and productivity.

Lunch Periods

Most high schools have designated lunch periods where students can take a break from their classes and enjoy a meal. During this time, students can socialize with their friends, participate in extracurricular activities, or simply relax.

Lunch periods not only provide students with a chance to refuel their bodies but also serve as an opportunity for social interaction and stress relief.

Free Periods or Study Halls

Some high schools incorporate free periods or study halls into their schedules. These periods allow students to have a break from their regular classes and use the time for independent study, homework completion, or pursuing personal interests.

While it may not be a traditional recess in the sense of physical activity, free periods and study halls provide students with a valuable opportunity to manage their time effectively and take a mental break from their academic workload.

It’s important to note that the presence of modified recess periods in high schools can vary greatly depending on the school’s policies, resources, and educational philosophies. 


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The Debate: Should High Schools Have Recess?

When it comes to the topic of recess in high schools, there is a heated debate among educators, parents, and students. While recess is a common practice in elementary schools, its inclusion in high schools is often questioned.

Some argue that high school students are too old for recess and should focus solely on academics. Others believe that recess can have numerous benefits for teen development. Let’s take a closer look at both sides of the argument.

Benefits of Recess for Teen Development

Proponents of recess in high schools argue that it can provide several advantages for teen development. Firstly, recess offers students a much-needed break from the demands of their academic studies. It allows them to relax, recharge, and reduce stress levels.

Research has shown that physical activity during recess can improve cognitive function, concentration, and overall academic performance. Furthermore, recess provides an opportunity for social interaction and the development of important social skills.

It allows students to engage in unstructured play, fostering creativity, problem-solving abilities, and teamwork.

Recess can also promote physical health and combat sedentary behaviors. Regular physical activity during recess can help prevent obesity, improve cardiovascular health, and enhance coordination and motor skills.

It is important to note that high school students often have limited opportunities for physical activity during the school day, making recess even more crucial for their overall well-being.

In addition to these benefits, recess can also contribute to a positive school climate. It provides a break from the classroom setting, allowing students to release energy and return to class more focused and engaged.

Recess can foster a sense of belonging and community among students, leading to increased motivation and a more positive attitude towards learning.

Concerns About Recess in High School

Despite the potential benefits, there are also concerns raised about the inclusion of recess in high schools. Some argue that high school students have busy schedules and limited time for academics. They believe that recess could take away valuable instructional time and hinder academic progress.

However, it is important to find a balance between academic rigor and the well-being of students. Incorporating a shorter recess period or integrating physical activity breaks into the school day could be a compromise.

Another concern is the potential for misbehavior and safety issues during recess. Critics worry that unsupervised free time could lead to bullying, conflicts, or accidents. However, proper supervision and clear guidelines can address these concerns.

Schools can implement structured activities, establish playground rules, and assign staff members to monitor the recess period.


While most high schools today do not offer recess periods like those found in elementary schools, practices vary widely across districts and individual schools. Some incorporate modified breaks like free periods or staggered passing times between classes to provide students with mental and social breaks.

Ultimately, decisions around high school recess reflect complex debates around academic priorities, child development, and school logistics. But the question remains up for discussion as educators, parents, and students weigh the potential benefits and drawbacks of recess in secondary schools.

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