The short answer — the one I blurted out this morning while reading this article in the New York Times — is that they don’t. I’ve said it before: Kids don’t need to be taught how to play. But quite a few educators across the country apparently feel otherwise.
According to the Times article, “Forget Goofing Around: Recess Has a New Boss,” a number of elementary schools from New Jersey to California have hired “recess coaches,” to organize playtime at recess. I don’t mean that they’re supervising play to keep kids from bullying each other or attempting to climb the soccer goals behind the school and declare themselves “The King of the World!” I mean they are setting up games of hopscotch and soccer, etc. –and nobody’s allowed to just sit and talk to their friends.
Now, I know you’re going to say, “But what about the obesity and the video games and the bullying? Our kids need supervision!” Yes, they do need supervision. But do they need someone with a whistle around her neck “fostering social skills” and “overruling stragglers’ lame excuses”?
We have that already. It’s called gym class.
Recess is supposed to be just that, what Dictionary.com calls: “temporary withdrawal or cessation from the usual work or activity.” It’s why we have lunchtime at work and breaks during conferences — so we can turn off our brains and relax a little bit. Even if that means sitting on a bench and chatting with friends.
The wise parents in Wyckoff, New Jersey, but 20 minutes from here, feel the way I do. That’s why parents there petitioned to replace the “mid-day fitness program” with good old-fashioned, kids-playing-whatever-they-want-or-don’t-want-to recess.
As one mother there told the Times: ““I just can’t imagine going through the entire day without a break, whether you’re an adult or a child.”
Even the journal Pediatrics concluded last year that kids need recess: “Children need free play at home and at school. The time assigned for free play at school is known as recess. Recess is defined as a break during the school day that allows children the time for active free play.”
Free play. Not orange cones and coaches.
In poorer districts, school administrators praised the program, citing fewer recess injuries and squabbles. I totally get that. In my own yard, I’ve broken up snowball fights that were escalating into just plain fights, and I’ve shouted, “Knock it off!” out the window more than a few times. But I didn’t go outside with a bucket of chalk or a basketball and demonstrate how to play quietly.
And the kids either behaved or they went home. They needed supervision. They didn’t need me to show them how to play.
Even some of the kids in urban Newark, New Jersey, but 40 minutes from here, told the Times they miss the old recess. One kid said he “sometimes missed the old recess, because ‘nobody would tell us what to do’.”
And as long as nobody’s getting hurt, we grown-ups shouldn’t tell kids what to do at recess.