I don’t know about you, but one of the best parts of my elementary school experience was recess. It is not that I was not academically challenged at school– I certainly was in many cases. I attended K-3 at Murfee Elementary School in Lubbock, Texas, half of 4th grade at a Catholic private school in Columbus, Mississippi, the rest of 4th grade and all of 5th grade at Warden Carden Elementary School in Columbus, and 6th grade at Eugene Field Elementary School in Manhattan, Kansas. (My father was in the Air Force, so we moved a lot.)
At each of these schools, recess was a highlight of my day. I can still remember interactions, people, and situations from recess. I have some memories from classes, but probably more from recess. This fact does not suggest that I was an academic low performer– I think it reflects the importance of recess, likely something true for most learners.
I learned a great deal during recess. Students today are provided with relatively fewer opportunities for unstructured time in their everyday lives, I think. There are many reasons for this, but two of the primary ones are:
- More structured after-school activities are available today than they were in the mid to late 1970s when I was in elementary school, and today many parents seem to believe part of their parental obligations include getting their children involved in as many extra curricular activities as possible.
- Teachers and principals in schools today are so test-performance stressed and focused that they have convinced themselves (ridiculously and erroneously) that recess is a frivolity– something that takes away from more important, valuable activities like preparing for the statewide assessment.
Nearly 40 percent of U.S. elementary schools have either eliminated or are considering dropping recess…because of budget concerns and additional standardized testing.
Count recess as yet another casualty on the altar of NCLB high-stakes accountability.
Last year my wife read the book “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv, which makes a persuasive case for providing young people with more unstructured time in natural environments. I have been concerned about this subject for quite awhile. A couple of weeks ago I started a post (that I never finished) titled “Activities as Child Abuse,” and rhetorically asked “At what point do a seemingly unending list of activities for young children become a mechanism for child abuse rather than child development?”
Our own children are very aware of our concerns about the lack of recess at our local elementary school. After 2nd grade, students don’t “officially” get any recess. Two quick stories on this:
- Buying new tennis shoes for my son last year, I asked him if they would work for PE, recess, and everything he needed to do at school. His response: “We don’t have recess in 3rd grade, Dad, so that won’t be a problem.” My response: We’ll be finding a new school where 3rd graders DO have recess, so don’t worry about that.
- There are many, many factors that will go into the decision of where we move and live, but schools will be prominent on the list. The previous story got translated interestingly by our kindergarten daughter, however. We received a phone call from another kindergarten parent a few weeks ago, worried because her daughter came home saying that we were moving because Murfee doesn’t have recess in 3rd grade! We are certainly not happy about that policy, but there is much more to our rationale for planning a move….
Here is the bottom line. Our kids and ALL kids need recess. In fact, I contend that ADULTS need recess too, but in most places of work such an idea would be treated with distain. I think there are good physiological and psychological reasons for why we all need a periodic recess. I think innovative companies that really value creativity (Google comes to mind) actually have corporate policies that encourage play and “recess.” Daniel Pink says “play” is one of the essential six skills of the conceptual age. I think he’s right.
Thankfully, when it comes to kids and recess, the national PTA seems to agree with Dan Pink and with me. Let’s get behind their campaign to save recess. Our kids deserve it, and they need it. Our schools must be about so much more than just test prep.
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