Recess – or break, or playtime – is a blight on the life of schoolchildren. Far from being the space and enjoyment of company that children need to grow as people, it is an opportunity for so much that is negative to flourish unseen.
Arguably, recess is the time when most bullying occurs. Frequently, there are few teachers on duty, and those who are may be nursing a drink, or chatting with colleagues. In the nooks and crannies of the playground, children are being teased, forced out of games, forced to join games they hate, tripped over “accidentally”, shouted at and generally made miserable. So many children stand and watch, uncomprehending, as fashionable peer groups demonstrate their exclusivity. And complaints are too often received with “Well, I’m sure you can play nicely if you try,” or some such inanity.
Recess gives the bullies the chance to learn their trade, and their victims the chance to learn their fate. In later years, it is always the dog-eat-dog atmosphere of the playground that causes people’s negative views of school life.
Recess periods detract from the fundamental purpose of school and in doing so, break the day up into disjointed attempts to focus children. As anyone who has ever tried to teach a class of nine-year olds with purple faces after a summer’s lunchtime recess will know, the quality of learning, however good the teaching, declines markedly on the return to the classroom.
Conversely, a winter’s morning will bring thirty bedraggled, cold and damp children in, whose hair and clothes dry out into the already stuffy air of the room, creating an unpleasantly sub-tropical environment utterly unsuited to learning. This is all aside from the fights and anxieties children bring back into the classroom after half an hour of being excluded and teased. It is not unknown for the teacher of a primary school class to have to spend the following ten minutes sorting out disputes before learning can even begin to resume.
Recess periods also have a negative effect on teachers. Whereas they should be preparing lessons, often they are catching up with sports scores on the internet, gossiping pointlessly, or even eating such obesity-inducing snacks as biscuits, when only a few minutes previously they had solemnly handed the day’s government-inspired bananas and apples to their children.
It seems ridiculous even to think of a school day with no breaks, for either teachers or students, but there are ways and means of having civilised breaks, which do not involve the problems listed above. For example, schools could offer “internet cafes” or other clubs at recess times. They could offer more, but much shorter recess periods, so that children get to move around but do not have enough time for the negativity. Or the school day could simply be cut, to give children the chance to play how they want, where they want, with the people they want to play with.
Far from being an essential part of the school day, recess should be abolished.