Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Demise of Recess

The demise of recess—what dark words to begin this week’s column. I received a suggestion for this topic because schools are reducing the amount of recess in the school day. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) offers forums and policy statements regarding the demise of recess. It is from their website that I found reasons to keep recess (the activities such as playing out of doors and unstructured play time) in the preschool and elementary day.

If you are like me, you remember recess as a most important, enjoyable part of your school day. In the early fall, I dug in the soft dirt under huge trees and imagined conversations with fairies and leprechauns. It was during recess time that I learned most about myself. I could swing to the greatest heights, flying like a bird. I could hang from the monkey bars upside down until my face turned red with the effort. I could survive skinned knees, receiving kindness and a band-aide from my teacher. I could jump rope ‘salt and pepper’ and I could run away from the boys. I came inside after my exertions red faced and breathless, the blood coursing through my veins and into my brain. Recess made me physically ready to learn.

In contrast, children today are lucky to have ten or fifteen minutes of outdoor playtime during the school day. In the winter months, I have seen children come to school without appropriate warm clothing for playing out of doors. These little ones huddle near the doorway with no hat, mittens, or boots until the end of recess or until they are allowed back inside.

We wonder about the upswing in childhood obesity, the increase in heart disease, and the increase in childhood diabetes. We wonder why we have a generation of children who can’t entertain themselves, have social difficulties, and are fidgety and off task in the classroom.

In the late 1980s, some schools cut back on recess to allow more instructional time. This trend accelerated with the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001. Some schools, afraid of low test scores sought to improve scores by having children spend more time at their desks on schoolwork. However, the NAEYC found no research to support such assumptions that test could be improved by keeping children in the classroom all day.

I am staring at the computer in front of me and have not written a logical or thoughtful word for the last fifteen minutes. Where are my boots and my hat and my mittens! My brain is drained and I think I need to go out for recess!

Toad House Publishing

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