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Canadian Public Health Association

Policy - Schools

The Recess Project, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario

The Recess Project is an action research project hosted by Ryerson University. The objective is to study, change, and improve the recess setting. In partnership with Physical and Health Education Canada, organizers work with national partners to leverage system level changes in the way Canadian schools approach recess.

A typical recess in a Canadian school is often barren, crowded, minimally staffed, and characterized by negative social behaviours such as bullying, exclusion, and marginalization. The problem is rooted in the conventional, low-priority approach to recess – as it is considered “extra-curricular” and often overlooked in school improvement efforts. Organizers of The Recess Project provide schools with a well-trained coordinator/master planner for each recess for the entire school year. Their role is to provide children with a continuum of meaningful opportunities in an inclusive and accepting climate. Coordinators work with the children to organize the playground, provide activities, manage equipment, train and supervise Junior Recess Leaders, and liaise with staff and community members. Most importantly, they work to develop settings that mitigate the risks of bullying and social harm.


Children are more engaged, happier, safer, and physically active. Victimization, loneliness, and social conflict are notably reduced or eliminated. Such findings are important in that they are well-known predictors of children’s mental health, well-being, school engagement, and academic success.


The Recess Project

New Recess Rules Policy, Horace Allen School, Coleman, Alberta

The Horace Allen School has new recess guidelines that offer children more free-play with less adult intervention. This policy was derived from the success of their whole school Outdoor Play Days program. That program allowed students to manage their own play and spend full days engaged in outdoor activity (e.g., making mud slides, exploring creeks, and building forts out of loose parts). Children learned to manage their own risk and make choices that feel right for them.

The program consisted of a week-long series of pre-recess assemblies to introduce the new concepts of outdoor play to students. Rough and Tumble Play, exploring the playground, the “big hill,” and play with snow were discussed. Through images and skits, educators explored what was and was not acceptable. Educators also prompted the use of the “Kelso’s Choices” program, where students utilize problem-solving strategies with their peers to manage “small problems” more independently. The New Recess Guidelines align with the school establishing an Outdoor Learning Space, where children will be able to engage with outdoor fauna and flora and loose parts, as well as in self-directed play and learning.


Survey results from the children have described the excitement and joy they experience engaging in outdoor play time. Feedback from parents was also positive. Overall, these new recess guidelines allowed children to engage in outdoor play in a multitude of settings. The benefits of this experience can be seen in children’s smiles and laughter outdoors.

Last modified: January 28, 2019