A friend was upset recently that his elementary-aged student lost recess time for minor misdemeanors in the classroom. He was upset. I would be, too. Why do kids lose recess? It’s complicated…
Children need time to play, run and explore in unstructured ways. Often, that means recess.
If the child is like me, sitting still in rows and quietly learning, is purgatory. Moving, exploring and learning through experiences is how I learn best. Taking some of that away – even just one recess – creates more stresses than successes. Thankfully classrooms and schools are changing from past norms.
Schools from the past often placed students quietly in rows where they were supposed to diligently do their work, quietly. Some suggest ‘modern’ school was an industrial idea to prepare workers for factories.
Luckily this thinking is changing.
I still hear of instances of active children who are denied recess for misbehaviours. In my mind, ‘busy’ children should receive double recess for misdemeanors. Disallowing active free play can escalate challenges.
I currently teach a little bit of Forest School. What draws me to their learner led philosophy? Students lead the learning. Kids are engaged and active because they follow their passions. Teachers build the curriculum around the student interest. Consequently, there are very few mis-behaviours to manage.
Following student interests keeps them focused on learning.
What’s going on with some kids in traditional schools?
I teach mostly in traditional classrooms. Misbehaviours happen. Recently, I sat beside a boy who had consumed much of my attention as I got the class going. He squirmed and disrupted those around him. I looked at him. “You’re bored aren’t you?” He looked at the floor and nodded his head. Instead of threatening a consequence – like taking his recess – I asked what he wanted to do. We worked a way to combine his interests with curriculum elements. Happily for all, his behaviour improved.
Why teachers take away recess.
Teachers threaten students with losing recess, I believe, because they’re often strapped for time, energy and need a quick way to keep a student in line. Although it’s short-sighted, some teachers have their limits and, despite best intentions, resort to recess loss as a way to keep the class moving forward. Without an outlet or release, the student’s behaviours can escalate and create more challenges.
What others say about recess and taking away recess:
The Atlantic offers discipline research, suggestions and alternatives to taking away recess:
Education Weekly suggests the practice of taking away recess is declining and offers support for recess.
The Huffington Post cites findings on the subject from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Two alternatives to losing recess:
This is education lingo for meeting all students where they are. It means keeping all students interested in learning whether they are at grade level, or way behind or way ahead. Keeping all students interested will help reduce unwanted behaviours. It’s the ideal in classrooms.
However, differentiation takes planning, insight, resources (time and $) and experience.
It also means teachers need to account for students who are chronically hungry or have a stomach ache or who live with a single parent who struggles to make ends meet. Sometimes the behaviours stem from stresses or traumas beyond the context of school. Some students never develop the basic social skills to get along in a school environment.
I have seen classes where one student can consistently derail an otherwise well functioning learning environment. Sometimes, that student has little support at home and may only be operating at the lowest tier of Maslow’s hierarchy. It’s hard to be ready for learning if you’re worried about food or shelter or safety. Which brings me to alternative 2 to losing recess.
Keeping students learning means keeping them interested like in this learning environment.
2. More support.
And I mean more support on many levels such as:
• Support in the class for students that need it. A good educational assistant is worth their weight in gold. Smaller class sizes help.
• Support for families that are struggling. This could mean support for families that do not have the basics of food and shelter… or families that have developed poor coping skills for life’s ills. Support could be for families struggling with loss, mental or physical health challenges, stress.
• Support for schools: More teachers, more educational assistants, more people, more time means better student development.
All this support means more big picture $. That’s a big issue that will not always welcome support. However, The CBC documents that money spent on early education / family support goes a long way in saving money down the road.
The NY Times offers research and more research that equates more educational spending benefits society.
The American Prospect suggests that (in the USA) there is a correlation between jails and education: “The lowest-performing schools tend to be in the areas where incarceration rates are the highest.”
Would more support for schools and neighbourhoods lead to less need for jails? I think so.
So… taking away recess from misbehaving children?
Support schools. Support teaching staff. Support social services. This support will create better lives for all.