Do All Rhode Island Students Have a Right to Recess?

Bringing the creativity of free play to every Rhode Island students


Does every child have a right to at least 20 minutes of free play each day? The Rhode Island House of Representatives thinks so: they passed a bill in May that not only requires a minimum of 20 minutes of recess time for elementary school students, but also prohibits schools from withholding recess as punishment. As of press, the bill had been approved by the senate and was ready to be signed into legislature.

Research overwhelmingly shows that self-directed free play is crucial to children’s healthy development. Students who participate in recess are better able to concentrate during class time and exhibit fewer behavioral problems. While organized sports and games are also beneficial, free play is essential for children to develop the social and emotional skills necessary to be successful in life: cooperation, communication, compromise and the ability to take measured risks.

The City of Providence also recognizes the importance of free play. In 2013, Providence PlayCorps, a collaboration between the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Healthy Communities Office, the Partnership for Providence Parks and the Providence Children’s Museum, was established. The program engages children in opportunities for play and creative exploration in seven city parks, including Mt. Hope’s Billy Taylor Park. During winter break and throughout the summer, trained Play Workers work with kids at the parks to encourage open-ended and imaginative play.

Is legislation really necessary? A survey conducted by the organization Recess for Rhode Island with support from the RI Association of Principals found that 11% of our schools do not have daily recess. While 89% of schools have recess every day, 72% of them have only 10–20 minutes allotted, and 10% have fewer than 10 minutes per day. Recess may be cancelled due to inclement weather, safety concerns, discipline or testing – in fact, 70% of the schools surveyed withhold recess as a disciplinary strategy.

Tim Walker, an American who spent a year teaching in Finland and wrote about his experience on his blog, was shocked to find that teachers and students in Finland take 15-minute breaks after every 45 minutes of class time. The idea grew on him when he saw how focused and attentive the students were, especially compared with his American students.

Janice O’Donnell, Director of Providence PlayCorps, states that, “It’s important to raise awareness that some children are currently not participating in recess every day. Parents and caregivers should have this conversation with their kids and with the schools.” She notes that the Rhode Island Department of Education does not currently collect data on recess; she believes that a recess reporting requirement would raise the value of play overall.

Rhode Island pediatrician Judith Westrick supports the bill, as she believes that recess can help alleviate the stress she sees in many of her patients. “There are an awful lot of kids who are really stressed out, especially the ones who find sitting still all day difficult,” she says. “And there’s plenty of good evidence that kids benefit from free play.” In fact, she advises parents that children need time to run around after school, rather than starting on homework right away.

The state of Connecticut passed a bill in 2012 similar to the one proposed in Rhode Island, guaranteeing all elementary school students at least 20 minutes of recess per day and prohibiting the loss of recess for disciplinary reasons. Megan Fischer, the Interim Executive Director of the Providence Children’s Museum, calls the proposed legislation a start: “Really, 20 minutes is a minimum – but it’s better than 10 minutes, or nothing at all.”

To learn more, visit Recess for RI at, Providence PlayCorps at, or the Alliance for Childhood at

Universal Pre-Kindergarten Comes to MLK Elementary
The Providence Public School Department (PPSD) has announced that Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School will be the first site of the Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) program funded by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE). The program, which will be aligned with the RI Early Learning and Development Standards, Common Core State Standards and Grade Level Expectations, will open for the 2016-2017 school year. Children throughout the state who are four years old by September 1 may apply for this full day program, although no bussing is available. To register, email Susan Chin at or visit the RIDE website at

Moses Brown School’s Adam Olenn Recognized
Adam Olenn ’91, Moses Brown School’s Director of Communications and Community Engagement, received the Rising Star Award from Providence Business News for his work at MB. Hired in 2014, he was the creative force behind the school’s viral snow-day announcements, “School is Closed” and “Hello”; MB’s capital campaign MB Believes: A Campaign for Learning, People and Place; and two comic books for the institution. He’s now busy working on the second annual Chez Innovation, a free ten-day summer camp for teenagers focused on one of Rhode Island’s most important industries: food. For more information, contact Olenn directly at or 617-869-2851.

Classical High School Moving to Earlier Start Time

Despite abundant research supporting a later start time for high school students, Classical High School will be moving its start time from 8:30am to 8am for the 2016-2017 school year. Although PPSD did not respond to requests for comment, the secretary at the school explained that the teachers support the decision, which she believes is partially due to traffic and bussing concerns. Last year, a high school on Cape Cod pushed its start time back by an hour to 8:35am; according to The Boston Globe, “tardiness fell by 35%, and the number of Ds and Fs dropped by half,” prompting other Massachusetts high schools to consider following suit. Classical’s new start time is more consistent with the start time at Hope High School, which will remain the same at 7:50am.