Why Is Recess Even Up For Debate?

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

Forgive me for my ignorance but how did I not know this?

Did you know recess is a hot topic? I mean, really, what child-related/parenting topic isn’t considered hot but still. Recess? How is this an argument?

Apparently it’s an ongoing debate, especially in Chicago where, until this year, they apparently haven’t had recess for thirty years.

Were you aware of this? Evidently, nearly 40% of American schools have either eliminated or are considering eliminating recess.

How can that be? Recess, in my humble opinion, is as much a part of school as reading, writing, and arithmetic. That might be stretching it, but not much.

Kids need a break. But, according to Slate, many administrators don’t think so. In fact, many principals and teachers apparently hate recess not only for the apparent waste of time but also because recess is, as Nicholas Day from Slate calls it, a chaotic scene out of Lord of the Flies.

Since the advent of No Child Left Behind, “every minute of the school day has been scrutinized for its instructional value — and recess, a break from instruction, often didn’t survive the scrutiny. It was, by definition, a waste of time.”

How is taking a much-needed breather after hours of instruction a waste of time? Kids get time to shake the wiggles out, burn off some steam, play games, and socialize with friends. Isn’t socialization a huge part of why we send our kids to school, anyway? Social skills are arguably as important in life as your math skills. Hell, maybe more important. We have calculators for math. Plus computers and smartphones are filling in knowledge gaps when we’re on the go, but as far as I know there isn’t an app for making friends.

As Nicholas Day says, the argument against recess is as follows: “What, you want the kids to play kickball when they’re failing math?

Yes. Yes I do want my kid playing kickball when he’s failing math. Anyone who has a kid should know forcing them to do something, especially for an extended period of time, is as futile as trying to get your dog to poop in the toilet and flush when he’s done. Not gonna happen.

Finally, after three decades of no recess, it appears Chicago school districts are paying attention to some new studies that say recess is crucial.

Repeated studies have shown that when recess is delayed, children pay less and less attention. They are more focused on the days they have recess. A major study in Pediatrics found that children with more than 15 minutes of recess a day were far better behaved in class than children who had shorter recess breaks or none at all. They’ll get more out of class, too: children seem to learn more efficiently when information is spaced out — when it is distributed over time. It’s been widely documented that the brain needs a break. High-performing East Asian schools have famously long school days — but much of the extra time is taken up by recess, not instruction. Which might be why recess is now back, even in places like Atlanta (although it is squeezed for time).

Even though recess is making a Britney Spears-style comeback, much like the pop princess then and now, it just isn’t the same thing we knew and loved all those years ago.

“It’s more structured and sports-focused, less dreamy and aimless,” says Nicholas Day. What’s the point then? Isn’t that just a gym class? The beauty of recess is it gives kids a chance to get away from structure and instruction and DO THEIR OWN THING. Not everybody digs sports. In fact, a good percentage of kids dread gym class and forced sporting engagements with their peers.

How are kids supposed to play Star Wars (I get to be Princess Leia!) if some bossy teacher is out there trying to force them to pick teams for kickball? When is all the sticker-trading going to get done? Or is that a relic of the past? Whatever! When will the kids be able to download the latest apps, then?

CEO Jill Vialet founded Playworks, a company that puts full-time “recess coaches” into low-income schools. She disagrees and says recess is no longer what we used to know and love. It’s changed.

“Recess has changed because the times we live in have changed … What we’re doing is creating just enough structure. That same structure that was created by the older kids in the neighborhood in times past — we’re creating that now on the schoolyard.”

So what she’s saying is kids don’t know how to play anymore and instead of setting them loose to figure it out on their own we’re going to appoint someone to teach them how to play during recess? That’s the answer?

It bothers me to think that my daughter may not be able to enjoy the same kind of recess breaks that I did. I remember making plans with friends, playing make-believe games, four-square, tetherball, or just sitting in a circle and talking. Sometimes, believe it or not, I read a book. But it was my choice and not some teacher-organized situation. How is that even recess?

Even if your school has recess, it still may be in danger of changing. As Nicholas Day writes, “The argument over whether to have recess may be ending. But the argument over what recess means is only now beginning.”

What do you think recess should mean? How do you want your children spending their time during recess? Do you prefer structure and organization or should recess be an anything goes, it’s-up-to-the-kids-how-they-spend-their-time kind of deal?

Article Posted 5 years Ago

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