As state legislatures make mandates claiming to secure recess in schools, it is important to nail down what they mean when they define recess.
There are a lot of canned activities and commercialized gimmicks parading as recess. It is important not to be duped into thinking your child is getting recess when they aren’t.
Look at your school district and ask whether your child’s school has recess. Then ask what it is they do when they call it recess.
Activities that Are Not Recess
Here is a list of activities and commercial programs that are NOT recess. All of these programs deny children real free time. And some of the programs seem like the privatization of play.
- Sitting on a balance ball while doing schoolwork. Some teachers use exercise balls to fulfill the state mandated time requirement for recess. For some children, focusing on balancing might make it difficult to do schoolwork! But even if balancing helps them focus, it is not recess!
- Peaceful Playgrounds. This commercial program creates blueprints for recess activities and promises to keep recess costs low (when did recess cost anything?). It also advertises that it prevents bullying. But recess is a period for children to socialize and work out problematic behaviors.
- Stand2Learn. There is nothing wrong giving children the option to stand while they work, or to move around the classroom. But this is not recess and I question the claims made here.
- Running laps. Running laps is considered corporal punishment when it is done in P.E. or as punishment instead of recess. The only time children should run laps is if they are interested in Track and Field sports.
- Walking. Some schools make students walk around the school. This isn’t recess either. It too may be considered abusive.
- Activity Breaks. Jumping Jacks next to your seat, or fun exercises in class are not recess, although if the weather is bad or children miss recess, activities might make a good substitute. And they are fun to do throughout the day. But again, they are not recess.
- Brain Breaks. Stopping schoolwork for short bursts of physical activity that incorporate learning, done in the classroom, can be fun and teach a variety of skills, but this is not recess.
- Quantified Data Activity Tracking. This is where children collect data on their movement throughout the week using Fitbits and Tinker Plots. I cannot imagine children involved in such a complicated task.
- Kids In the Game Grants. Here are corporate partnerships to provide funding for implementing activity in school. But none of these are recess.
- Go Noodle. One example of above. Children dance and move while they are shouting and singing about academic concepts. Maybe this has some merit, but it is definitely NOT recess.
- Let’s Move. No offense to former First Lady Michelle Obama, Let’s Move is more about P.E. than it is about real recess.
- Playworks. Recess requires a safe playground and teachers who supervise children. It does not mean children need coaches and directors to guide them how to play. I find this insulting to children, even though I am sure the adults mean well.
Misconceptions about Recess
In Tennessee, Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville wants a complete repeal of last year’s amendment giving students three periods of 15 minutes (90 minutes per week) of unstructured time.
Dunn claims teachers “aren’t seeing kids engage in rigorous physical activity.”
He doesn’t understand what recess is about.
Children usually engage in active play during recess, but if a child chooses to sit on a swing and stare at the clouds, recess should give them the freedom to do so.
Recess isn’t P.E.
Part of Dunn’s problem is that he thinks recess is P.E. He understands children need activity to stay fit, so recess must be enforced as rigorous activity.
He isn’t alone. Many principals and school administrators–and sometimes teachers–see recess as a time for students to be active.
And they believe they need to manage the time children spend during recess. They think the child needs to be directed in what they do.
The Tennessee mandate, Dunn claims, causes problems with physical education. But that’s because he is trying to make recess into P.E.
Recess is free time for a child. FREE TIME!
Recess provides children with independence to do whatever they want. Teachers supervise to make sure children are safe, but they don’t tell them what to do.
This freedom is important to a child. It allows them to think and socialize, and have a break from the academic routine.
Children can explore their world on their own.
Recess gives children the chance to be boss and in control of their own life.
Teachers should step aside. The only exception would be if children ask teachers to participate–to jump rope, or help set up a kickball team, or even play on a team.
It should be considered a privilege for a teacher to be invited into the child’s world during recess!
Kids rule with recess, and that’s what so many people don’t understand.
Motives Behind Recess Denial
Ironically, while Dunn, in Tennessee, attempts to scrap recess, he is also pushing school vouchers.
He said, “This whole debate [vouchers] comes down to people who are trying to protect the system, and all I’m trying to do is protect the student and give them a future.”
Well if that were true, wouldn’t he be trying to figure out why teachers are having trouble finding time to give children real recess?
If parents get vouchers they will most likely take their children to schools that do recess!
If children are not getting actual recess, they will not learn as well as they could be learning.
And it is abuse. Our children are not characters in a Dickens novel! They deserve several recess breaks a day. Every school should provide real recess.
Some Recess References
Bailey, Nancy E. Misguided Education Reform: Debating the Impact on Students. (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2013) 18-22.
“Crucial Role of Recess in School.” The Council on School Health. Pediatrics. 131:1. January 2013.
Lahey, Jessica. “Recess Without Rules.” The Atlantic. Jan. 28m 2014.
Ohanian, Susan. What Happened to Recess and Why Are Our Children Struggling in Kindergarten? (New York: McGraw Hill, 2002).
Pellegrini, Anthony D. 1989 Recess: Its Role in Education and Development. (New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, 2005).