Thursday, November 30, 2006

Revisiting Recess

I've recently been pondering 4th grade recess. That's the year I learned to play tetherball, and 4 square. It was the first year the girls played with the boys during recess so there were many romances played out on the playground. If a guy liked you he lifted you out of line and got in front of you. I screamed and kicked and yelled that they were too strong and it wasn't fair.

The sexiest man at William Penn Elementary was the champion in tetherball. The sexiest girl was me because I was too short to reach the ball after the first wrap around the pole. I jumped around screaming at the guy that he was too tall and was hitting it too hard and fast. All the boys loved to play with me. I made them look good. It was my first lesson in boyfriend/ girlfriend relationships.

During recess on rainy days we walked the playground and counted the worms and talked about life, and how unfair our teacher was to make us finish subtraction during lunch. Venting with friends over lunch is therapeutic. How to deal with future mean bosses was practiced in the muddy track under the trees.

I learned that during kickball you would get a ball kicked into your face if you stood whining about whether you could kick it. You HAVE to kick it. Life clips along and we better learn that we have to choose to sit on the bench or play. Playing is enough. You don't have to know all the rules yet. When the team knows you're playing, they'll coach you in the rest of it.

I learned that getting picked last for every team is humiliating and I didn't want other people to feel that way. I picked losers whenever I got a chance. Losers, including me, become winners when they think somebody trusts them to play well.

I learned I could survive outside on freezing, snowy days, or standing in the rain for fifteen minutes. I learned that breathing fresh air, and moving my bored, stiff body actually gave me energy for the rest of the day. My brain was sharpened by hanging by my knees, and playing double-dutch. I still remember the jumprope rhymes that my mother taught me, mixed with those my Swedish friend's mother taught her. Cultural exchanges were taking place.

I fell off the merry go round once, pushed by the mean 6th grade boys, and had to get stitches in my knee. I was trampled and pummelled during a snowball fight and I cried and told the teacher and my mom. They commiserated, but I had to learn to fend for myself or avoid the situation on my own. That's a skill I've used a lot in real life.

I think recess was a major part of my education. I was the wimpy type who would have begged to stay in and erase the blackboard for the teacher if it had been allowed. It wasn't. Lots of times I had to endure lonliness and being left out, so I just stood on the sidelines and watched the action, but I learned a lot from that, too.

I mention all this to make you think of what you learned about life from recess. There are lots of schools that are cutting out recess. It's become too competetive, rough and unstructured, some say. Unless it's organized, kids might get left out, or hurt. So they have structured it and sanitized it so much that it is boring. Kids have no interest in such a curriculum-filled free time, so they break out their game-boys and sit on the playground. At least they won't break any recess rules that way. The teachers see that the kids aren't participating in their well-planned recess activities and surmise recess is a waste of time. Better get the kid off that game-boy and back on the computer!

A major part of education is becoming a balanced person, with ever expanding interests. Curiosity, learning to interact with a variety of personalities (including bullies and wimps) and how to stand up with a smile after being pummelled, knocked over, and left out—these skills are necessities.

Recess is where a lot of emotional education takes place in a natural setting. Let kids play! And remember that while we use the word play, to them it's the work of learning where they fit in this world and what they have to offer. Kids need a little time built into their day to daydream, look at the clouds, fiddle with their shoelaces, run around wildly and make strange noises. They need to act out the things they're learning using their own imaginations, with no help from adults to develop their own creativity. How can you logically teach about the Revolutionary War, Civil War, etc. and then ban any war play by the kids? Doesn't throwing snowballs, or playing tag demonstrate some mathematical, or scientific concept of velocity or something? Everything I learned about gravity was in a play-time setting when I was getting hit by airborne orbs on their way back down.

I'm losing my train of thought here...I need to go out to recess!


marta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
marta said...

mom, your late night ranting sessions are my very favorite! i am with you, recess is an important part of life. thus, we should integrate it into our adult lives.. hey wanna do lunch?!!

Anonymous said...


I think you are right on with your post. Parents and schools nowadays mean well with their "sterilized" fun. But it may be stiffling creativity and problem solving abilities. We sometimes get chuckles out of older parents when we use the term "play date" in describing a scheduled interaction between children of similar age and temperment. What happened to kids just going outside and finding the neighborhood kids to do things with? For one neighborhoods are getting less safe. You have to worry about abusive parents and predators. Maybe they existed before, but we seem to hear about the worst-case-scenario stories on the news more often. In any case, kids need to be left alone to find their own talents instead of having busy schedules as early as preschool. They truly need to find the closest pollywog pond, to hunt deer, to get caught stealing and to throw tons of snowballs. It will help them in their adult life.

Sarah said...

I know you wrote this post years ago, but when Destri linked to it, I read and wanted to comment.
I get so bugged when kids want to play adults want to structure it or diagnose it with ADD. Let kids play! I totally agree. I think parents involve their kids in too many things. Let them breathe!