What You'll Learn

Learn about ways to encourage physical activity and how to make free time better.

What You'll Do

In this Play you will assess your school's current physical activity environments and then design and implement improvements. You'll also work with the administration to get more students active before, during and after school.

Why This Play

Recess and free periods before and after school aren’t just play time — they’re your time.

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  And, studies have shown that students benefit from free time to choose their activities.iii iv They also benefit from structured time for physical activity when they can simultaneously interact with friends.v

Warm Up Activity Idea!

Not quite ready for the full Play? Try this.

Start with one element:

  • On the physical side: Recruit a small team to clean up the playground, track or courts or do some stenciling or painting in the gym.
  • On the social side: Poll students to see what types of activities they'd like to do that go beyond their current experiences.


i The Crucial Role of Recess in School. Pediatrics, Vol. 131, No. 1 (January 2013), pp. 183–188. Accessed January 21, 2019

ii Does Better Recess Equal a Better School Day? 2013. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Accessed January 21, 2019.

iii The Crucial Role of Recess in School.

iv The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. Pediatrics, Vol. 119, No. 1. Accessed January 21, 2019.

v The Crucial Role of Recess in School.

What to Do

There are three main steps to this Play: plan your dress-up, plan your space and plan your time line. 

Step 1: Plan a recess dress-up

  • Gather a group of students to organize a recess review.
    • 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 benefit from new equipment.
    • 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.
    •  ⚠️ Note: This resource is helpful whether you are focusing on recess in an elementary school or physical activity times before, during and after school at middle schools and high schools.
  • Using your recess review as a reference, meet with your team to brainstorm ways the physical activity and free time can be better.
    • Diagram your ideas and mark off specific activity zones and what activities you envision happening in them.
    • Make note of any equipment needs you identify and consider applying for funding to acquire them.


Step 2: Make your space a place for everyone

Make your space a place for everyone during recess (or free periods for older students).

Space planning. Think about areas of the grounds and in school that can serve different purposes. This Guide to Recess Planning in Schools provides key resources and information to help meet everyone’s needs. 

  • ⚠️ 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 that don’t require a lot of funding.


Recess (or Free Period) Before Lunch

Consider asking your principal to add a free period for middle and high school students before lunch. If your elementary school has recess after lunch, ask that the recess schedule be changed so that kids can have recess before lunch.

  • Create an outline of talking points to help explain your ideas and the potential benefits. For example:
    • The Montana Office of Public Instruction piloted recess before lunch, and anecdotal 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.i
    • School staff also anecdotally noted that students seemed to waste less food and drink more milk, and they reported that students seemed ready to learn after lunch.ii


Step 3: Implement Your Changes

Work with your principal, parent-teacher organization and others on your team to make a time line for getting your changes implemented. 

  • Ask volunteers to come to school on the weekend(s) to help with clean-up, planting trees or grass, installing equipment, and painting scenes and activity spaces on the paved areas.
  • Create a proposed schedule for implementing your ideas. Again, you may be able to put together a team of volunteers to get the work done in one weekend or you may want to plan for multiple projects over time, depending on your designs and your budget.


i Recess Before Lunch: A Guide for Success. 2003. Montana Office of Public Instruction. Accessed January 21, 2019.

ii Ibid.

Who Can Help?

You are not in this alone. There are many people who can help make this Play a success. Here’s a list of people who can help and some specific ways they can do that. Meet with them first to talk about the goals of the Play and what seems most “doable” in your school.


  • Approve your plan and grounds improvement projects
  • Engage with school nutrition staff, teachers and custodians to get their support
  • Encourage student participation


  • Participate in or monitor recess activities
  • Help with activity ideas
  • Encourage student participation


  • Assist with clean-up and grounds improvement projects
  • Encourage peers to participate


  • Volunteer to help with recess supervision and activities or, for older students, with before- and after-school activities
  • Give hands-on help with improvement projects

Facilities Management Personnel

  • Help with planning of outdoor grounds improvements
  • Assist with logistical arrangements at the district level for some of your grounds improvement projects

Build Interest

  • Work with others to take photos of your current playground and physical activity areas (e.g., gym, track, fields, courts, etc.).
    • Use the Internet to search for examples of what your team would consider a “better” looking space.
    • Use your photos to create a presentation for the principal and parent-teacher 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 are about recess or physical activity times. Include this information in your presentation to the principal and in your planning for action.

Share Your Results

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 #FuelGreatness!


Hold a Grand Opening

Each time you complete a project on your timeline, host a family day at school to show off your results. Invite parents and community members to come and play on the new equipment or walk on the new fitness trail.


Scrimmage Time

Hold friendly competitions between classes in different, newly created activity zones. Perhaps have a kickball tournament for high school students or a Hula-hooping contest for elementary kids. Be creative and get the word out so that more students participate.

Think long term. Start a school grounds committee made up of students (all grades), parents and teachers/coaches to meet once a quarter and discuss potential new projects for your school. Be sure to recruit members from various grades so the committee will last into the next school year. Consider asking your PTA/PTO to make the committee part of its annual efforts to improve your school environment.


This section features ideas on ways to involve everyone in your school and community. Think about ideas for differentiating between older and younger students and ways to bring in the family connection.

Build student leadership opportunities. As much as possible, have students do the planning and run your programs.


For Students

Put students in the driver’s seat as much as possible. They’ll learn valuable life lessons on how to plan and implement programs, and they’ll feel great about helping their school!

  • Have student teams plan beautification projects for areas of the school grounds that aren’t used for physical activity but would benefit from some sprucing up. They can put the plan together, map it out and request funding from the school’s parent-teacher organization or donations from local businesses. Then they can organize their peers to come out and help put the plan in place.
  • Don’t forget about healthy eating connections. Work with your school’s art teachers to enlist art students and local artists who can work together to create murals inside or outside the school that show the connection between healthy eating and physical activity.
  • Look into the possibility of students earning service learning hours.
  • 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 by walking the maze.


For Everyone

  • 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 for 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, take breaks 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.