Here’s the thing you need to know when it comes to recess in the public schools: our children desperately need more of it. Recess is a time to get some physical exercise; a time to let go of the stress and just flat out take a break. Recess can also be a time of quiet solitude and reflection; a time when the lessons from the previous class sessions can be digested. Time on the playground is also the unstructured time that children need to practice the social skills that they have learned at home and at school.
No matter where you look in the adult world, every expert will tell you that taking time to take care of yourself throughout the day is very important. Corporations spend millions on workout facilities for their employees and take insurance companies that have “preventative health plans” that include exercise tips and programs for those workers who enroll. Why? What do they know that school administrators don’t? Well, for one thing, they know that their employees need time to “work out”; that is, work out of the office for a bit, reduce the stress, get themselves together. Our children are no different and, even more than adults, need that time to run and play and recharge a bit.
Not all recess time needs to be filled with physical activity for everyone, however. I spent many glorious days on the kickball diamond as a lad, but also spent time laying on the asphalt looking up to the sky to see the giant white rabbits and dinosaurs floating by. Alone time in a safe place is the best place to think and the perfect place to learn how to dream. And when you’re ready to play, the kickball is right their for you when you’ve got next game.
The playground is also the place for games and gamesmanship, and structured activity given by the teacher all the time may rob the children of their opportunity to create games, structure their own rules, police their own activity, and choose their own teams. Sure, it stinks to get picked last, but you’ve got to learn how to get through it. That’s a life lesson and the playground is where we learn a lot of them.
In an effort to get test scores up, some schools are starting to go to extended days. Some have kids in school for 10 hours a day. You wonder why our kids are fat? You wonder why they have a hard time with social skills? You wonder why they drop out? Maybe we could start by taking a look at those kickball bases, spray painted on the playground pavement, and make sure that they get worn out a little more.