What Happened to Recess

Sadly, we see the effects of restricted recess on the ever expanding waistlines of our nation’s children. The less our kids see of swings, sandboxes, and tetherball courts, the more likely they are to be overweight and under-challenged. Without deep breaths of fresh, green grass, halos of tattered leaves, and an occasional caterpillar in the pocket, our children are stagnating physically, emotionally and creatively.
A substitute teacher for four years, I know the benefits of a head-clearing recess. Kids return to the classroom energized, awakened and eager. Recess reductions can be attributed to everything from reduced funding in our schools, changing district priorities, and a severe lack of teachers, aides and monitors. But while the physical ramifications of limited recess are obvious on our kids, the social consequences aren’t as apparent.
I live in the desert Southwest, where dangerously high temperatures and ozone levels simmer into extreme heat warnings. The city is cautioned into laying low, drinking lots of water and staying indoors during the day. This means our students, especially susceptible elementary aged kids, spend recess in the classroom.
Enjoying lunch with my daughter recently, I noticed that she and her third grade classmates weren’t interacting at all as they ate. No comparing sweets or arguing chocolate milk vs. strawberry, no squeals and giggles, just silent bites. A quick glance of the surrounding tables revealed the same. I then realized that my normally vivacious, popular daughter barely knew her classmates, even two weeks into the new school year. Thanks to the heat wave these kids had spent nearly every morning and lunch recess in the classroom. No chance for bonding over a good game of Red Rover, shared wishes over blown dandelions, or a flushing game of tag with the boys.
Luckily, my daughter will cement new friendships on the playgrounds as the weather cools. Giggles and squeals will return, bugs will be caught, boys will be tagged, knees will be scraped.
If lack of recess does this much harm after only two weeks, imagine the effects on a generation of children? We could be looking at classrooms of strangers. How else but recess do you discover that Jason is a wonder with a basketball, or that Megan can run like the wind? That Sarah hates sand in her tennis shoes but Michael loves it? Recess should be a priority, not an option. Our kids need a bit of sand in their shoes to grow up healthy in body and happy in spirit.