School of Education


Doctor of Education in Curriculum & Instruction (EdD)


Rebecca Lunde


recess, attention. attention restoration, nature, physical activity




The purpose of this qualitative, phenomenological study was to understand teachers’ experiences with children’s attention and outdoor recess time for K-2 educators in elementary schools across the United States. Outdoor recess was generally defined as “unstructured free time” in an outdoor setting. The theories that guided this study were Kaplan and Kaplan’s Attention Restoration Theory(ART) and Ulrich et al.’s Stress Recovery Theory (SRT) as both theories sets forth the idea that time spent in nature allows for stress recovery and the opportunity for directed attention to rest resulting in greater executive functioning in humans. Recess time in schools has been in steady decline over the last two decades causing children’s access to nature to decrease in recent years. This qualitative study included educators from elementary schools across the United States. A total of 12 participants were recruited through professional Facebook educator groups and snowball sampling to provide their unique perspectives on the recess time decline for K-2 students through interviews, a focus group, and journal writing. Coding of all transcriptions took place to determine themes associated with the recess decline experience. These themes included: attention and behaviors, decision makers, freedom, choice and unstructured play, and incorporating movement into the classroom. The study findings indicate that teachers believe outdoor recess is beneficial to students’ attention and positive behavior. Teachers feel that administrators set the tone for how recess is prioritized in a school, and many educators are uneasy about making decisions about recess time because they do not feel they have the power to manipulate the daily schedule. Teachers recognize the need for freedom and unstructured play in the socialization of primary grade students, so they are mindful about incorporating brain breaks and movement into the regular instruction to make up for a lack of recess time.

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