You might hear that school recess is returning, but it might not be the recess we have come to know and love, and miss. It is not run by the school, but by a nonprofit called “Playworks: Play and Recess to Support Emotional Learning.” I have written about social and emotional learning before. Many are worried about those words and what they mean for children and schools.
Playworks isn’t recess. It isn’t a period of time where children can play on their own and dream. It’s privatized Phys. Ed. Those who understand recess will recognize quickly that coaching students on games chosen by adults, and how to act, is not recess. Often referring to the “power of play,” Playworks is not the kind of play which develops cognitive skills and empowers children.
For the record, P.E. is important on its own, but it is often mistaken for recess by those who don’t have a clue what recess involves. Sometimes principals will justify not having recess because children get P.E. However, P.E. is in trouble in a lot of places too. And if I were an elementary or middle school P.E. teacher, I’d be nervous if my school or school district bought Playworks. My guess is the Playworks non-teacher teachers will be eating your jobs sooner than later.
It seems today, the only way America will give children breaks from their schooling, is if those breaks are turned into a business. Playworks costs on average, between $60,000-65,000 for the coaches who organize and play games with children. For those schools with Free and Reduced Lunch students, philanthropic support will ease the cost.
Full-time Playworks coaches cost $18,000-$22,000 per school. Again, this might be subsidized at certain schools by 30%. Playworks TeamUp provides their style of training to teachers and ongoing development to school staff, paraprofessionals, and after-school care providers. This is ongoing.
Teachers are considered lucky if they get play training from Playworks. This involves inservice by individuals with no teaching background. It costs $1,000 per teacher and the cost is sometimes picked-up by Playworks donations. (See below where Playworks gets their money.) However, teachers must supervise everyone on the playground.
I wonder whether teachers ever learned anything about child development in college. Did they attend a real university? Why must they be trained about play? For that matter, why does an outside group have to come into a school and take charge of recess?
Here’s more information about Playworks:
- What are the coach’s backgrounds? If a student acts out on the playground, which will be difficult since everything is tightly managed, a Playworks coach will counsel the student, even though they have no counseling background.
- Many companies donate to Playworks. I guess CEOs understand that parents are angry about the Dickensian way they have corrupted public schools. But they also realize, with a free market, even recess can turn a profit.
- Slick marketing. Their website is full of fancy videos of compliant, lovely children. Playworks advertises that they are “changing the culture of the school,” which fits nicely in the “public schools are bad” message promoted for the last thirty years. They claim children, left on their own on the playground, will bully others and get hurt. They know how to hit the buttons that scare parents the most about recess.
- They use bullying behavior for program promotion. Playworks advertises that they prevent bullying by organizing play, but covering up bullying doesn’t make bullying behavior go away. It will show up when there is less of a chance to understand why it occurs, or in a place where the teacher or counselor has no way to address it.
- They use the injury card. Sometimes children get physically hurt on the playground, but not permitting them to have free play is hurtful in its own right.
- Not child-centered. Playworks, using the above justification to damn real recess, might resonate with parents who like control. Some parents think recess is a privilege, not a right.
- They create play zones. Playworks divides the playground into zones. Even that is controlled. They create a playground map for children to decide what games they want to choose. Some children don’t want to do anything at recess. They should be respected too.
- There are other play programs. There is Shape-Up America with its “19 evidence-based strategies,” and the Liink Project. The Liink Project is directed by a real education professor who seems to understand recess better, but they control the kinds of equipment children use. And they still seem to think recess is something that a school must purchase.
Real Recess—Free of Charge!
Recess is such a simple concept. It’s freedom for children. It’s adults saying “ We trust you to create your own fun. Make-up stuff, run and jump, play tag, swing or slide, climb, play kick ball, or soft ball, or jump rope. Or, sit by yourself and feel the sun on your back. Look at an anthill. Chase a butterfly!
Recess, done right, energizes children! There are no rules other than not hurting anyone. And teachers are always observing how children socialize on the playground and will step in if children display inappropriate behavior.
Why are so many adults not willing to let children be children for a short time each day at school?
Here is my suggestion as to how to save money and do recess.
School recess should be more than 15 or 20 minutes a day. Recess should be spread out throughout the day to give children decent breaks from academic work. Recess should be:
- a break before school starts—as children arrive,
- a 15-20 minute break between the start of school and lunchtime,
- a 20-30 minute break during lunch (revolving around the time children eat),
- and a 15-20 minute break between lunch and the end of the school day.
Recess should involve the following conditions:
- Children can do what they want as long as they aren’t hurting themselves or others. And I am assuming they won’t be looking at iPads.
- Playgrounds should provide safe equipment with soft material on the ground. They should be welcoming and safe environments.
- Teachers and assistants should observe children to learn more about them and to keep them safe.
- Teachers should only join in the child’s play when asked to do so by the child—an honor.
Today is the first day of spring and this is a good time to get outdoors and feel the sunshine and smell the fresh air. And there is no better way to do this for children than recess.
But children should get recess outside every day, even in the winter. Only stormy weather should keep children inside. Even then, they should still get time away from schoolwork.
Children should own recess—not some outside nonprofit group.
For more information about recess check out the following:
— Recess: Its Role in Education Development
By Anthony D, Pellegrini
Note: Pellegrini has numerous studies about recess which are accessible online. He is considered an expert in the area.
—What Happened to Recess and Why Are Our Children Struggling in Kindergarten? by Susan Ohanian.
There are also some savvy recess parent groups that fight for recess in their schools. Recess for All Florida Students is my favorite. If you are on Facebook you can find it here.
Reddy, Sumath. “Does Recess Need Coaching?” The Wall Street Journal. March 13, 2007.