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Diaries of a Fourth Grade Teacher: Recess IS a Class

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Diaries of a Fourth Grade Teacher: Recess IS a Class photo

Boy, do I love recess.

No, not Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (I love those too), I’m talking about those glorious moments, suspended in time, when school, stress and life seem to fade away, replaced with pure joy, energy and happiness. Schoolchildren burst from every seam of the school’s daunting brick overlay, pouring out like a crashing tide, instantly filling the playground with screams of joy.

Don’t you remember what your recess experience was like? The swing sets, kickball, relay races, socializing by the monkey bars. It was freedom. An escape. A glorious moment suspended in time.

At least that’s how recess felt to me when I was in fourth grade. It was one the best times to be a kid, plain and simple. You’re turning double digits for the first time. The world never seems more bright and shining than it does through a 10-year-old’s eyes, and that’s the way we should all see the world.

Recess has its athletic, social and emotional purposes. Kids need to get out and get exercise every day in order to promote a healthy lifestyle. But unlike P.E., which has a certified teacher and athletic instructor, recess has a mind of its own. In fact, I feel it’s its own class.

What? Are you serious?

To many of us educators, recess is perceived as a way to “let the kids vent some steam and get that energy out of their system,” so they can come back into the classroom focused and ready to learn. Some educators would even go as far as to vehemently disagree with my statement that recess is a class, one as important and necessary as any of the general studies subjects.

I didn’t even believe it at first. One of my professors at Loyola University required our class to read a book titled, The Politics of a Sixth-Grade Lunch. It mostly centers on a sixth grade teacher’s dilemma arranging his students for their in-class lunch, but many of the lessons taught about children’s interactions and developments regarding lunchtime were also expressed and analyzed for recess.

I thought to myself, “What kind of teacher would waste precious prep and planning time by spending it concerning themselves about lunch and recess?” As we discussed the book in class, I began to understand why recess was vital, and why budding educators like myself must fight to keep recess ‘alive.’

In my mind, recess can either have a ‘living’ effect on a child or a ‘deadening’ effect. In terms of ‘living,’ recess can be a time confidence and self-esteem building experiences. I’ve witnessed shy and withdrawn children in the classroom succeed during recess. I see children that normally do nothing except worry about themselves suddenly picking up other children that have fallen on the playground who are hurt. These are moments not to be missed by teachers, yet many are too preoccupied with their lesson plans and planning to spend the effort observing and reflecting on recess in the same manner.

There is the other side of the coin as well. When I see a child voluntarily sitting out of recess—the one or two times they are allowed outside to play and be free—I know that there are other forces at work on a playground besides children playing games and getting exercise. There are recess hierarchies and boundaries—sometimes ones that stretch across cultural and racial lines—that can really hurt and diminish a child’s perception of recess and of his peers, though it does build vital communication skills.

Recess can have a similar effect on an educator. I’ve seen teachers exasperated over the games the children choose or the methods students use to alienate, exclude or discriminate against other students. I see them huddled by the door, whispering and complaining to each other about what to do. They have practically no solution to rectify this, other than interceding and ending the game or punishing the children responsible. The children end up frustrated, hurt and ultimately disinterested in continuing to play.

So what can we do to promote recess and elevate it to the level of attention and respect it deserves? There are many educators developing fun and amazing recess interaction strategies that promote more interpersonal interactions with students of all levels of intelligence without the air of competition. I used to think that playing games that had no winner or loser were a waste of time and no fun to play, but after attending a few educator workshops and seminars focused on this aspect of education, I learned that with an open mind and a positive (and somewhat assertive) attitude, these types of games could (and would) catch on like wildfire. Parents at home need to be supportive of a positive, developmentally beneficial recess period and even be prepared to fight for its existence should it be threatened.

I have loved recess all my life. I still love recess. I will always enjoy recess, whether it’s supervising, organizing or even participating every once in a while. After all, teachers are in school, too, aren’t they? If my children are having recess—you’ll know where to find me! 

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