Navigating the SEAS: Social, Emotional, and Academic Success in our Schools

Navigating the SEAS: Social, Emotional, and Academic Success in our Schools

By Dr. Lori M. Koerner

In the world of education, the focus too often is on rigorous instruction and test scores. With rigor and numbers at the forefront of conversations, it is easy to overlook the profound impact that recess has on a child’s overall development. As an educational leader, I have witnessed firsthand the transformative power of offering students ample time for socialization and self – regulation during the school day. This article explores the value of recess breaks and how they foster enhanced academic outcomes.

The Importance of Recess

Recess is a critical component of a well-rounded education. Providing students with unstructured playtime fosters social, emotional, and intellectual development. Helping children to Navigate the SEAS of Social, Emotional and Academic Success requires teachers and school leaders to allow children time to navigate these Cs;communication, cooperation, collaboration, conflict resolution, cultivating curiosity and capturing creativity.  These skills are foundational for success in school and in the real world.


We can’t teach children what it looks like to socialize. We need to offer them time to practice this essential skill. Socialization is a staple for child development, and recess offers a natural environment for students to form friendships, build social skills, and develop a sense of belonging. These social bonds contribute to a positive and supportive school culture, creating a conducive atmosphere for learning where children feel comfortable taking risks. Risk taking is at the center of learning and growth.

Emotional Wellbeing

Children cannot learn if their basic needs are not being met. Recess acts as a stress-reliever, allowing children to release energy and reduce feelings of anxiety or frustration. Physical activity increases attention and motivation, and enhances our mood. Offering students short recess breaks throughout the school day promotes increased academic outcomes by heightening attention in the classroom during sustained instruction. Educators may wonder how they can afford to spend time offering recess breaks, but the stark reality is that they can’t afford not to invest in this time. This is how we  educate the Whole Child.

Academic Outcomes

Contrary to popular belief, recess does not detract from academic achievement; rather, it enhances it. Studies consistently show that students who have regular breaks for physical activity and socialization perform better academically. The improved focus and increased attention span that result from recess contribute to a more effective learning experience.

Implementing Best Practices

Recess breaks should be a scheduled part of the school day. Consider creating an imaginarium with jumbo sized blocks for children to engineer, create, communicate and collaborate. A tranquility room with dim lighting, bean bags and a sound machine will help children learn how to self regulate and return to their classrooms once de-escalation is complete. These inclusive spaces encourage students to participate, fostering a sense of community, and allows for individual needs to be addressed. We tell children what to do from the minute they wake up until they go to bed. Incorporating activities that promote teamwork, creativity, and physical exercise along with time for self reflection will allow children to mature through a journey of self discovery while learning how to navigate real world situations.


As educational leaders, we have a responsibility to prioritize the holistic development of our students. Acknowledging the pivotal role of recess in nurturing socialization and emotional wellbeing is a fundamental commitment for educational leaders.  By implementing thoughtful recess practices, we place children’s overall wellbeing at the forefront of our educational mission. It is through our intentional efforts that we pave the way for social, emotional and academic success – and play is certainly the way!

Dr. Lori Koerner has been in the field of education for over three decades. She spent the first 26 years of her career as an elementary school teacher, having taught every grade. She is a Fulbright Specialist Scholar, and served as an adjunct professor for special education at several universities in New York.

Dr. Koerner is currently an Assistant Superintendent in a public school district on Long Island in New York. Her research has been centered on educating the whole child; that is, developing students’ social competencies, emotional well-being, and physical fitness through recess and play so that they are best equipped to meet their maximum academic potential.

Dr. Koerner is a mom of four, and a bold child advocate. She has written numerous articles for national magazines regarding paradigm shifts necessary for 21st century learning. Dr. Koerner has presented across the country regarding innovation in education.

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