A friend who teaches first grade finds her principal’s recess policy maddening. The children are allowed almost no recess, and some teachers have resorted to “sneaking” their classes outside when the principal is off-site. “The children have no rights,” my friend says. She adds that when they haven’t been able to run and play, “teaching is a waste” because the kids can’t focus.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends a minimum of 60 minutes of daily physical activity for children and adolescents, and the American Academy of Pediatrics describes recess as “crucial.” Yet many schools continue to prioritize academics over physical health. In this month’s AJN Reports, author Carol Potera explores the connection between the decline in physical activity in schools and the increase in childhood obesity and describes the ways in which some schools are trying to reverse these trends.

Potera points to research in which students’ discipline, focus, and academic performance improved after one school’s institution of four 15-minute breaks each day. Some schools have incorporated balance beams, exercise balls, wobble chairs, or pedal desks into their classrooms, to keep kids moving at times throughout the school day that they would otherwise be sedentary. Standing desks are currently being touted both for adult office workers and schoolchildren, because a few studies suggest that the use of these desks may affect BMI percentiles.

“The work of a child is play” is a quote sometimes attributed to Marie Briehl, a pioneer of child psychoanalysis. Instead of simply searching for “measurable” and often expensive non-recess interventions, we shouldn’t overlook the value (and joys) of “plain old” recess. For more on this subject, including links to resources, see “Physical Activity in Schools Declines, Obesity Rates Climb: What Can Be Done?” in the January issue of AJN (the article will be free until February 7).