I have worked in the field of education for over 15 years now. I have been a teacher of various grades and am now a Vice-Principal in a school of over 1000 students. Throughout my career I have heard the recess debate take place numerous times. Truth be told, there are very good points on each side of the argument. Nevertheless, my argument contends that recess time is a vital part of the school day for elementary aged children. It gives them the opportunity to interact with others in an unstructured setting which thus helps them to develop both their knowledge base and their social skills. Are there dangers inherent in the unstructured nature of recess? Certainly there are, however, in this case the benefits do outweigh the dangers and therefore recess simply has to be a continued part of the school day.
Before I explain the various factors which support the continued existence of recess, i will outline the components which do make it difficult. In her article, “Elementary School Recss: Healthy Peer Socialization or Danger Zone?” Joy Hester makes many valuable points. There are negative peer influences, bullying and physical dangers which exist at recess time. In truth…there always has been, that goes without question. Knowing this, why would I ever recommend that recess continue as a vital part of the school day? Quite simply, I believe school administrations can address the recess problems in a positive fashion and drastically improve all aspects of recess at their school. Also, research has clearly shown that the unstructured nature of recess is crucial to the cognitive and social development of children. That is a factor we cannot ignore.
I ask you for a minute to think back to your own past and what do you remember about your schooling. Odds are you recall being outside playing with your friends and forming important social bonds, and quite often lifelong friendships. You most likely remember the academic components much less…if at all. That is not to say that the academic components are not important…of course they are. However, unstructured recess play is beginning to be reduced in favour of rigorous academics. My argument is that this actually hurts a child’s social and academic development. Small children often do not have the ability to sit still in a class without a break. This break comes in the fashion of unstructured play and socialization. If we want our students to maintain their focus, this is vital. Without such a break a teacher will spend more time on classroom management then the actual academic instruction.
In terms of children being exposed to negative components such as negative self image perceptions, I do not believe this can be blamed on recess. In fact, I would argue quite the opposite. Our society has grown into a paranoid land where our children are put into organized clubs and teams, or they are at home on the computer or other electronics. Many people fear actual unstructured play as they are afraid of the unknown. I think there is little doubt that the shrinking nature of our world, and the influence of the media are huge factors here. Knowing this, when do our children get an opportunity to socialize in an unstructured environment? They will have no choice but to do this later in life, so should they not practice? What better place to practice then in an environment full of potential peers and adults who are watching to make sure that they do not get carried away. That would be the playground at recess time!
In terms of physical dangers, such as aggressive play, pushing, falls etc…, obviously these pitfalls do exist. However, children need to LEARN how to play with one another. We cannot simply assume they know how. Many of our neediest children never get an opportunity to play with others except for when they are at school. When they go home they often are home alone, while their parents work 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet. The administrators of schools have a very important role here. The administration needs to make sure that there are guidelines and codes of conduct which will help guarantee student safety at recess time. Also, such programs as self-esteem boosters and anti-bullying initiatives, which focus on positive reinforcement need to be adopted school wide. These programs will go a long way in helping to maintain a safe and fun recess atmosphere. All in all, if I was asked whether recess time should exist for elementary children, I would say yes everytime, our children deserve nothing less.