There is a whole generation of young adults who have never experienced a “real” recess. For those people, let’s explain what recess used to be.
Recess was a time when children when outside and did whatever they wanted as long as they stayed within the boundaries and hurt no one. If children wanted to sit next to the building and read a book, that was fine. If a child wanted to run around the playground till he dropped, that was fine. If kids wanted to play four square or dodge ball, there were plenty of balls.
Often children got in scuffles and the teacher or recess monitor would send them to opposite ends of the playground. There were dangerous toys like slides, teeter totters, merry-go-rounds and swings. Some playgrounds even came with tether balls.
Recess was probably the closest thing to real life that most children experienced at school. This free play and all the experiences that came with it were an important part of education.
It didn’t change all at once, and with every change the intent was positive. It may have started when a teacher recognized the need for children to get more exercise. The children who just used to sit and relax and read were tossed into some kind of physical activity. Most of the time it was resisted by those already participating.
Tether balls are dangerous, and if students are not careful they get hurt. So one by one they started leaving the playgrounds, along with other equipment. Children used to know that if you stand in front of a swing you will end up getting hit. Now children know that swings are dangerous.
It could have been that bullying behaviors actually began to increase as children were forced to participate in group activities at recess. They could not just relax; they had to participate. They were exposed to another gym class they were not prepared for. Bullies were given a bigger stage to point out the faults of others. Adults had to become more diligent in policing activities.
Recess eventually just turned into another extended physical education class. The students who are always picked last on the team have another opportunity to learn how unsuccessful they are.
For many children who just needed some time to make personal choices, their needs were no longer met. They couldn’t just run in circles because they needed to release energy. They couldn’t just jump rope by themselves. They couldn’t just relax and follow the teacher around.
Very few are advocating that children should be allowed to do anything at recess. There is a need for boundaries. The truth is the boundaries should be minimal and the children should have a real recess.
Adults intercede when a child’s safety is in danger. The children have to stay in the designated area. Children can choose the form of down time that suits them.
It is time to give children back recess. It is time to let them experiment with different social roles and activities as they feel ready. It is a chance to hand them back the opportunity to play with creativity and imagination. These are qualities worth saving.