Scheduled Recess – Taking the Fun Out of Free Play

On August 21st of this year a blog was posted by an outraged citizen about a town outside of Chicago where teachers had begun to implement scheduled recess. Each recess session was broken down into segments where the students were instructed to do a specific activity. There was no freedom of choice. When the kids got out on the playground they were divided into smaller groups and told how and what to play. The rationale behind this decision arose from the concern that there were children who weren’t utilizing their time constructively during “free” play. Some children were getting into fights. Others were wandering aimlessly around the playground, not playing with the other children. Scheduled recess, that was the solution.

Kids love recess. The first thing my daughter talks about when she gets home is what happened on the playground. Recess is the hub for all socialization. At recess the children get to converse about all the other non-academic subjects that interest them. Girls chatter about “crushes”, friendships and clothes . Boys tease the girls and delight in being chased. Kickball, dodge ball, make-believe games, creative play, singing songs, jump rope, all going on at the same time.

Recess is all about the freedom to run, play, and interact. There is nothing wrong with teachers intervening to break up a fight or encouraging a loner to participate. Teachers should be suggesting activities for those who need direction. Suggesting, not mandating. There is always going to be the loner who chooses to spend solitary time. There are always going to be the kids who get into mischief. To punish the whole because of the few is just unfair. Kids spend all day sitting, being told what and how to do their work. They need outdoor time to spread their wings and let loose.

Taking the troublemakers aside and dealing with them as a small group is far more effective than trying to curtail the activities of the masses. Those who can’t participate in a positive way need to sit out until they can show they are ready to not abuse their “free-play” time. Sitting out and watching the others enjoy their freedom is the most effective form of time out.

As for the loners, encouraging group activities where the “loner” has the opportunity to interact within the classroom can help the child make connections that just might extend to outdoor play. The teacher should encourage the positive attributes of the “loner” child, pairing him/her with children who would appreciate these special qualities.

Penalizing the whole is never as effective as removing the negative element. Working toward a positive outcome rather than being punitive makes for a more peaceful atmosphere. This school in Chicago needs to reconsider their strategies and give their kids some freedom. School is not a prison, but a place to learn, grow and be creative.


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