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School Recess is Needed Playtime

Last week I wrote about the need for children to play at home. But I’m still pondering the American Academy of Pediatrics report, ‘The Power of Play,’ because it also stresses the need for play at school. It encourages educators, pediatricians, and families to advocate for and protect unstructured playtime in preschools and schools. That’s a bandwagon I can jump on.

Elementary age school children watch the clock for recess time. When I taught 4th graders, some struggled to tell time on an analog clock, a round clock with hands that hung in every classroom. But all students knew exactly where the hour and minute hands pointed when it was time for recess and named that time as 1:40 or 20 minutes before 2. When I randomly asked how much longer until recess, students quickly counted forward, using the same skills that were so difficult during a math lesson to determine elapsed time.

Students ran to the playground. Ran. Just for fun and as if they hadn’t played on the swings and slide and merry-go-round and jungle gym the day before. And a pick-up ball game began quickly. Some children played four-square on the painted court on the blacktop. A few, especially girls, wandered off in small groups and walked and talked.

And students played in the dirt. Young children played house and pretended that large exposed tree roots created a home with rooms. Sticks became people and leaves were furniture. Those same roots were racetracks for Matchbox cars that boys brought from home.

Thinking back to the days I played on a school playground, my friends and I had an ongoing game of hopscotch. Using chalk from our classroom, we drew an eight-block court on the blacktop, pulled our best flat rocks out of our pockets, and continued the game from the day before. We also jumped rope. Does anyone else remember jump rope rhymes?   One began, “Cinderella, dressed in yellow,” and ended with all the girls counting aloud, screaming, the number of kisses Cinderella got from her fella.

During my teaching years, recess got a bad rap. The emphasis on standardized testing led some states to shorten or eliminate recess to allow more instruction time. An article defending recess in Time Magazine, October 2017, states, “There is substantial evidence that physical activity can help improve academic achievement, including grades and standardized test scores.” A 2016 study found that young boys who spent more time sitting and less time playing didn’t progress as quickly in reading and math. A 2009 study found that 8- and 9-year-old children who had at least one daily recess period of more than 15 minutes had better classroom behavior.

The Tennessee Board of Education recognizes the need for both teacher-led physical education classes and recess. Elementary students should have 130 minutes physical activity per week, including at least 15 minutes of daily recess. Putnam County teachers and administrators have assured me recess and physical education classes are part every student’s schedule.

Recess – time to exercise, to socialize, to break from work, to play. Children need it.

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