My elementary school had the coolest playground in town. Of course, I went to school before anyone was obsessively concerned with safety, so danger was a big part of the attraction. We had a two story wood tower with a fireman’s pole, tire swings that we hoisted up poles to get good speed, swinging metal rings, and a wood bridge we used mostly as a trampoline. Needless to say, recess was a blast and I have many fond memories there.
Unfortunately, many kids won’t have the same memories of recess fun. No, it isn’t because everything has been replaced with splinter-free plastic and lame attractions like spinning tic-tac-toe, musical notes, and infant-sized slides. Recess is literally disappearing.
I was shocked when my sister told me her elementary-aged kids only had recess for the last few minutes of their PE class. When I asked my own daughter about recess, she told me that fourth and fifth graders only get a small recess after lunch.
It seems in this day and age of No Child Left Behind and the many required standardized tests, teachers are forced to keep the kids in the classroom and off the playground. I’m not dogging classroom time – learning is the reason we send our children to school. What I have a difficult time understanding is how they can effectively learn when they don’t have an outlet for their built-up energy.
Recess wasn’t designed as a break for the teachers, although for schools with support staff to monitor the playground, that break is surely welcomed. It wasn’t built into the day so the kids could master the skills of hop scotch or Red Rover either. Recess is a part of the day because kids need a way to get the energy out so they can focus.
We also cannot discount the actual learning that goes on in the tunnel slides and the on the swings. Sure, this is where many kids learn of things mom and dad dread, but it is also where they learn to cooperate, lead, follow, and behave within the social norms of their peers. Free play is vitally important to the social development of children.
This slow erosion of childhood play isn’t a conspiracy of teachers and administrators against our children. In fact, I would bet most of them are as frustrated as our children are. A Gallup survey found that two-thirds of elementary school principals believe students listen better and are more focused after a recess. Eighty percent of the surveyed principals say that recess has a positive impact on academic achievement.
So how do we get recess back? How can we reclaim Mother May I, Simon Says, and double dutch jump rope? There isn’t an easy answer, at least not one as utopian as we would like.
We could dump standardized testing, switch to a longer school day, or go to year-round school. Perhaps if we put all the extras aside – all the sports, clubs, activities, etc. – and truly focused on academics, then maybe, just maybe recess would find its way back into the school day.
Cat Koehler is married with two children. She works full time. Read her Mondays on momaha.com
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