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How Recess Can Curb Bullying

Research shows that recess, when well-organized, can make a real difference in schools, resulting in children who feel safer, bully less and are more ready to learn.


A study conducted by Mathematica Policy Research and Stanford University’s John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities, closely examined the approach to recess taken by Playworks, an American non-profit that runs recess programs in low-income schools. The study confirmed that recess and other school-based playtimes are some of the most studied topics for kids in recent times.


The new research also suggests that a safe, healthy, structured and organized recess environment, like the one provided at Playworks, has the potential to be a key driver of better behaviour and learning in children. Like Recess Guardians, Playworks provides recess coaches, usually Americorps volunteers, who oversee the games and activities that are meant to be vigorous, fun and inclusive. They teach children to cheer for each other and to resolve their disputes amicably and fairly. 




Bullying Prevention in School: Recess


Bullying can seriously threaten growing students’ physical and emotional safety at school and affect their ability to learn and concentrate in class. It’s crucial that teachers and the school culture itself focus on providing the right information to students and their teachers in an effort to prevent bullying. 


3 Ways Schools Can Reduce or Eliminate Bullying at Recess


Recess allows students to get a break between classes to connect with classmates, participate in unstructured physical activity and get some natural sunshine and fresh air. Most students look forward to recess in school and are excited to get outdoors and play, but it’s not always a positive experience for every single kid. 


With a large number of children and a limited number of adults, recess sometimes provides opportunities for bullying to occur. Here are a few strategies to help prevent bullying at recess and allow all kids to enjoy their free time.


1. Provide Age-appropriate Activities and Equipment

  • Students should feel safe and comfortable participating and have access to developmentally appropriate facilities, games and equipment on school premises.

  • To keep children active, organize some group activities and cooperative games for fun and enjoyment.


2. Provide a Variety of Activities

  • Teach students a variety of activities that they can play with their friends during recess. Given that they spend less time outdoors, kids don’t usually get a chance to learn different types of activities to do during unstructured times.

  • Set up new games/activities for kids and encourage them to participate – if everyone is learning something new, the chances of being bullied based on performance are lowered.


3. Prioritize Active Supervision

  • Encourage supervisors to be mobile, they should constantly move around the playground area so all children are visible; and children know that they have support nearby if needed.

  • Teach children how to identify bullying and negative social interactions. It is better to go over the process of communicating issues with recess supervisors.

  • Be sure to minimize the use of play areas that are out of sight or hearing range. If they have to be used, arrange for supervisors to cover those areas.


By keeping students active and engaged during recess, supervisors can help to stop bullying before it even starts. Students who feel safe in school enjoy more success in being physically active, learning, and interacting with others rather than engaging in unwanted things like bullying.


Stop Bullying Before It Starts 


Bullying that starts on the playground, especially during recess, spills into the classroom, the home, and even onto social media. The good news is we all can create a recess culture where bullying stops before it starts.

To proactively prevent bullying behaviour at recess:

  • Teach kids simple and enjoyable ways to resolve their own conflicts so that small quarrels don’t escalate into hurt feelings. Try rock, paper, scissors.

  • In games like jump-rope and foursquare, try to promote inclusion among classmates. This teaches kids that all children should feel comfortable and accepted at recess.

  • Help students practice positive emotional and social skills. Make positive interactions like high-fives and saying “good job” and “nice try” a practice.

  • Create recess leadership opportunities. Leading games or monitoring equipment can help students channel their energy for good.


Proper evaluation of a school’s recess strategy not only helps to stop bullying but can also help make the school's recess program have a more positive impact on the development of children. With effective training of recess supervisors, recess can become a productive part of every child’s day.


In fact, studies have found that an effective recess program not only diminishes bullying but also improves student behaviours and facilitates learning in the classroom. Moreover, an effective recess program in place can lead to fewer disruptions during class and more time for learning and teaching.



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