CalFresh Healthy Living's active recess project supports physical activity and healthy school communities

Sep 12, 2022

CFHL, UC partners with San Mateo and Santa Clara county schools to increase structured and non-competitive physical activity opportunities for school-aged youth through the CATCH curriculum, contributing to improved community health and wellness.

The Issue

Since students returned to school and in-person learning, school administration witnessed a decline in student's social skills and physical activity abilities from previous years. Principals and teachers expressed concern that anti-social behavior was prevalent and believed it was a result of the isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. One principal in Santa Clara County shared an observation that “students were having a difficult time making friends” and “many students would spend time by themselves, rather than engage with classmates.” School staff also noted that students were not getting the recommended 60 minutes of daily play during the pandemic.

In Spring 2022, CFHL, UCCE educators supported schools as they were dealing with low school staffing levels and students struggling to re-enter the classroom. Re-learning some of the skills associated with interacting and socializing, and then ramping up physical activity in the post-pandemic world was needed.

How UC Delivers

After hearing about the challenges facing schools, CFHL, UCCE developed an active recess program to help schools address supervision and staffing issues while engaging students in physical activity. School administrators and teachers were excited about this program and hoped structured recess games would engage their students physically and help them learn to interact cooperatively.

CFHL, UCCE educators attended school recess regularly, on a once- or twice-a-week basis, bringing CATCH games with them. At some elementary schools, CFHL educators reached all of the students with their games, from kindergarten to 5th grade, and at some school sites, educators focused on providing activities to just Kindergarteners. Games helped build a range of skills, from locomotor skills and coordinating with others, to developing balance, catching, and hand-eye coordination skills.

In San Mateo and Santa Clara County, CFHL, UCCE educators supported recess CATCH games with an array of equipment, from hula hoops, beanbags, frisbees, polyspots, scarves, and more! Students were welcome to join in for games such as dragon's tail, fruit salad, scarf and bean bag toss. Students were welcome to use the supplies to enrich their own play and it was common to see students building castles with cones, and juggling. These games were welcomed by the students, from K-5, with cooperation, laughter, and the request that CFHL, UCCE educators come the next day to play some more! This feeling was expressed by the Sunshine Gardens Principal, who stated “I only wish they were here every day!"

The principal at Sunshine Gardens went further to say that the games “allowed students to build skills and confidence and set goals”. At Castlemont Elementary,the principal saw that “more students were actively engaged”, a sentiment that was echoed at Pescadero Elementary, where a school leader noted that students were much more active during recess after the implementation of the active recess project.



Active Recess

The Impact

CFHL, UCCE Educators collected active recess evaluations to document CATCH adoption across four sites, reaching 795 students. Principals across sites reflected that the games were more cooperative than competitive, which encouraged more participation. The principal at Bowers Elementary also liked that the games “were structured so that they helped develop cooperative skills”. Pescadero leadership saw CFHL, UCCE involvement as both helpful and important, and all four participating schools requested continuing active recess work in the 2022-23 school year.

Recess interventions have been shown to increase the amount of physical activity children get and when children regularly engage in physical activity, it can lead to improved cognition, fitness, heart health and mental health outcomes. Teachers and staff remarked on the value of CFHL, UCCE bringing physically and mentally engaging collaborative games and activities to their students. CFHL, UCCE educators are looking forward to the opportunity to continue supporting active recess in the 2022-23 school year. Educators and School sites are inspired to build on last year's success and there is a plan to provide CATCH trainings to teachers and staff to support additional physical activity policy, systems, and environmental changes in the new school year. In this way, CFHL UCCE programming contributes to UC ANR's public value of Healthy People and Communities.


By Laura Vollmer
Author - Nutrition Family and Consumer Sciences Advisor
By Mary B. Vollinger
Contributor - Supervisor 2
By Daniela Curiel
Contributor - Community Education Specialist 2
By Julie Lefko
Contributor - Nutrition Educator
By Marisela Ceron
Contributor - CFHL Nutrition Educator
By William Easlea
Author - CFHL Nutrition Educator