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Recess Refresh - It's Not so Elementary!

Recess isn’t just for elementary school. Whatever age you are, make your physical activity areas inviting and fresh! Work with your Fuel Up to Play 60 team to put together design ideas to make all areas where recess and physical activities are done places where students want to be.

Here's a checklist to get you started!


Recess Refresh

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Credit: DairyMax








  • Recess and free periods or before- and after-school activities aren’t just play time — they’re yourtime. A period of free time, inside or outside, gives students a break they can use for daily physical activity and creative play, which may benefit both their physical health and social development. i ii



     i The Crucial Role of Recess in School. Pediatrics Vol. 131, No. 1 January 1, 2013
    pp. 183–188. Accessed February 18, 2017.

    ii Does Better Recess Equal a Better School Day?2013. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Accessed February 18, 2018.

Huddle Up

Huddle Up

  • Huddle up with your school’s Program Advisor, PE teacher and other teachers to help brainstorm ideas, build a schedule and find equipment. Remember to include the whole team: your principal to give your plan a thumbs-up, parents to help supervise recess activities and students to lend their ideas (and muscle) to improve your outdoor environment and activities.


    Students! Here are some things you can do to get things going!


    • Work with a group to take photos of your current playground and physical activity areas (gym, track, fields, courts) and use the Internet to search for examples of what your team would consider a “better” looking scene. Use your photos to create a presentation for the principal and parent organization showing what is versus what could be at your school.
    • Survey students across all grade levels to find out what their most and least favorite things about recess or physical activity times are. Include this information in your presentation to the principal and in your planning for action.
Get Organized

Get Organized

  • Gather a group of students to organize a Recess Review. Use the review to explore the conditions at your school. Make a list that details how students currently use the space and think about how various areas might be better used for new activities or equipment.


    Using your Recess Review as reference, meet with your Program Advisor to brainstorm ways the physical activity and play time can be better. Strategies for Recess in Schools, released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and SHAPE America in January 2017, can help you organize your information and think about strategies that will work for your school, whether it’s recess in an elementary school or physical activity times before, during and after school at middle schools and high schools. The CDC/SHAPE America document is specific to recess but its content can be applied to any physical activity time where students have choices.iv Remember: Studies have shown that students benefit from free time to choose their activities.iv v They also benefit from structured time for physical activity when they can also interact positively with friends.vi


    iiiThe Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance.2010. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed February 18, 2018.

    ivThe Crucial Role of Recess in School<. Pediatrics, Vol. 131, No. 1, January 1, 2013: 183–188. Accessed March 14, 2018.

    v The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. Pediatrics, Vol. 119, No. 1. Accessed March 14, 2018.

    vi The Crucial Role of Recess in School. Pediatrics, Vol. 131, No. 1, January 1, 2013: 183–188. Accessed March 14, 2018.

Build Awareness

Build Awareness

  • Work with  personnel who supervise recess and other physical activity times (e.g., teachers, aides or volunteers) to make sure they feel comfortable with helping students find the balance between time for structured activities and time for activities that students choose themselves.


    Talk with students about the kinds of games or sports they’d like to play at recess or during a free period. Consider creating a survey or poll. Use these Fuel Up to Play 60 Polling Resources for ideas.


Take Action

Take Action

  • Plan a Recess Dress-Up Day. That’s the day you “dress up” your playground, gym or outdoor area with new activities and spaces. Ask volunteers to come to school on the weekend to help with clean-up, planting trees or grass, installing equipment and painting scenes and activity spaces on the paved areas. Fuel Up to Play 60 playground stencils have tons of designs for activity spaces. Encourage all students to participate. These areas are everyone’s to enjoy and take care of.


    Recess Play Stencilease


    Make your space a place for everyone. Think about areas of the playground and school that can serve different purposes. This Action for Healthy Kids (AFHK) Toolkit for Quality Recess provides lots of planning information, including step-by-step guidelines to help meet everyone’s needs. Again, while written for traditional recess, the ideas can be adapted for upper-level schools and students as well. Have students work together, using the planning materials, to map out an ideal use of space for the playground and other designated places on the school grounds. Use ideas from the AFHK toolkit as well as ideas from these resources:


    Note that many playground planning resources are commercial in nature. Even if your school is not ready for a complete playground overhaul, you can use the ideas in these resources to make meaningful changes without a lot of funding.


    Be a leader. Work as a team to observe your peers on the playground and encourage everyone to join in. Some students just need something specific to do. Have students form a buddy system and be sure to invite others into their games. Don’t forget about healthy eating connections. Have art students and local artists work together to create murals that show the connection between healthy eating and physical activity. If your school doesn’t have a garden, consider planting a vegetable garden in the shape of a maze, so students can grow nutritious foods and get some physical activity in by walking the maze.

    Consider asking your principal about changing the recess schedule so kids can have recess before lunch. Create an outline of talking points to help explain your ideas for this Play. The Montana Office of Public Instruction piloted recess before lunch, and anectdotal comments from administrators and teaching staff noted that  kids who played before they ate seemed to enjoy recess more, and that earlier recess led to a more relaxed overall lunch atmosphere.vii They also anecdotally noted that students seemed to waste less food and drink more milk, and they reported that the students seemed ready to learn after lunch.viii


    Think long term. If you upgrade your physical activity areas, you’ll need to think about ongoing maintenance of the stenciling, the landscaping, equipment management and so on. Work with the PTA to see if they can help you put together a volunteer committee that will operate from year to year. Check with the administration to see if you can offer students service learning time to volunteer. Create a Recess Round-Up Team to do a monthly or quarterly assessment of the playground and make recommendations on what needs attention.

    vii Recess Before Lunch: A Guide for Success. 2003. Montana Office of Public Instruction. Accessed February 18, 2018.

    viii Ibid.

Spread the Word

Spread the Word

  • Create promotional materials like posters and flyers to highlight new, exciting recess activities and announce the healthy changes you’ve made to the playground. Get the word out on your school’s website or blog, in your school newsletter and student newspaper, and on social media! Share student stories, videos and pics on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram tagging FUTP 60 (FB: @FuelUpToPlay60; TW and IG: @FUTP60) and using #RampUpforRecess!


    Involve the community. Schedule a meeting with your school's parent organization and ask if they will volunteer time to help put together a team to spruce up the school and make physical activity areas more inviting and fun.


    Check out The Huddle and learn about how one school used funding and careful planning to improve physical activity AND healthy eating in and out of school.





  • This section features ideas on ways to involve everyone in your school and community. Think about friendly competitions, how to include students and adults or ways to bring in the family connection.


    Scrimmage Time

    Hold friendly competitions on the playground using the games and ideas you learn through the development of this Play. Have classes play each other in kickball, FLAG football, tag and other games. Look for ways to get everyone involved.


    Everyone can:

    • Help design activity zones and activities.
    • Gather donations of equipment and materials.
    • Design activity-zone signs.
    • Help organize activities by using these ideas for how to make recess fun for all students.



    Build Local Community

    Organize something like “Promoting Play” days by selecting an area of the school or grounds to plan a beautification project. After securing a date and the necessary permissions, invite community members, parents and students to volunteer their help. While your volunteers are working, break every so often to do fun physical activities like relay races or sack races. The volunteers will get to know each other and have the satisfaction of having worked and played to accomplish a goal that will keep students active over the long term.


    Help Build the Whole Fuel Up to Play 60 Community

    Encourage students to log on to their Dashboard and report activity to achieve Level Three (30,000 Points) and be named a Fuel Up to Play 60 Student Ambassador! Having ambassadors at your school will help get more students involved and make your Play a success!

    Homefield Advantage: Check out this resource and share it with parents so they can see what they can do to help at home and at school.



Warm Up!

Just getting started? Here is something you can do without jumping right into the full Play. Let this idea get you warmed up so you’re ready to tackle the full Play!

Start with one element:

  • On the physical side: Recruit a small team to do a Recess Dress-Up — clean up the playground, track or courts, do some stenciling or painting in the gym and start thinking about bigger-picture changes.



  •  On the social side: Poll students to see what types of activities they’d like to do that might go beyond their current experiences with play and physical activity.

Funding and Outfitting Your Play

What might help?

Fuel Up to Play 60 stencils

• Various fitness/playground equipment (jump ropes, sports balls, nets and/or goals, flag football kits/footballs, cones)

• Recess carts/equipment carriers or racks

Funds for Fuel Up to Play 60

Up to $4,000 per year is available to qualified K-12 schools enrolled in Fuel Up to Play 60 to kick-start healthy changes!

General Information

Additional Resources

Fuel Up to Play 60 provides this information as a courtesy. It does not imply an endorsement of the websites, organizations, or all information provided thereby. Fuel Up to Play 60 cannot attest to the accuracy of information provided through links. You will be subject to the destination site's privacy policy and terms of use when you leave this website.