#1140 Losing Recess

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.

Reducing Misbehaviours
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.

learner led learning

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:
1. Differentiate.
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?
Think again.

Support schools. Support teaching staff. Support social services. This support will create better lives for all.

#1138 Public School and Forest School Symbiosis

I wandered past the school’s library recently and noticed a young boy happily consuming dinosaur knowledge (and practicing his literacy skills.)

It was an idyllic picture of traditional learning…  except that he had snuck out of class to do so.

Public School and Forest School
Many know I have been teaching something most of my life and that I currently work as a teacher in a public school board and a Forest School. My passions belong to the development of youth – kinders to Grade 6 – as they develop their foundational elements (see Maslow’s foundational levels) that support academic and/or technical skills… and life.

Which is how I have found myself with a foot in both public school and Forest School.

Public School Love
I love the resources available within public schools including experts, funds, policies, and large quantities of people and students percolating to support as many youth as possible.

Forest School Love
I love the pedagogical ideas behind Forest School – specifically the Emergent Education Theory, or, less grandiosely, learner-led learning (LLL.)

Learner led learning allows students to follow their interests and puts the onus on the teacher to build balanced curriculum around the students’ curiosity.

public school

Learner led learning at Chelsea Forest School.

Bring the two ideas (LLL and Public School) together and you have magic.

Remember the dinosaur-reading boy in the school library?
He exhibited idyllic student behaviours – quiet concentration, independent, engaged learning. His behaviour was vastly different when he was expected to engage in a lesson in which he had little interest! In the library, he chose the learner led approach within a school board.

Managing LLL for the masses is no easy task, though. Answering to the individual desires and needs of millions of youth while addressing the data driven expectations of ministries of education and government benchmarks is no small feat.

But, it is possible.

A first step is recognizing that all people are different, learn at different paces and want to learn different things.

A friend’s son struggled at school. He has dyslexia. His school squeezed him into set avenues of learning and support which went poorly. All that interested him were cars – Volvos, specifically.

His mom planted the seeds for his literacy and math development through car manuals, car magazines, Volvo books. He learned traditional academic skills through his passion for cars. What does he do now? He’s a leading Master Volvo mechanic with a happy, fulfilling life. That’s learner led learning in action.

Forest School

Learner Led Learning at Chelsea Forest School – these students were mesmerized by what they found beside the trail. They were captivated (and learning)!

Within the last couple of years I worked regularly with a tough class in a public school board – they pushed my skills. Every lesson was challenging. I dreaded gym class because there were volatile students who could make the learning environment challenging for all.

One day, I came to gym with the prescribed lesson – protests started. I took a deep breath and turned the tables. “What do you want to do!?”

Students shared their ideas. Quickly, the gym transformed into a hub of four activities that students chose to join as they wished. I took a step back and watched. It didn’t follow the plans and I had to work backwards to see how it fit the prescribed curriculum… but all were engaged, smiling… and learning. It was one of the best learning environments I witnessed with the students. They had helped shape their learning environment.

The learners in these scenarios led their own learning with positive results. Good news for all.

Forward steps!
Ottawa Forest and Nature school launched a program to bring Forest School to the Ottawa Carleton District School Board. Select elementary classrooms were selected to go to Forest School one day a week for six weeks.

The effect? Positive. I asked Karen, a Kindergarten teacher whose class were involved in the Forest School program. One of the benefits she noticed was increased creativity in her classroom.

Chelsea Forest School offers a School Day Program where students spend one day per week at Forest School to complement their traditional school. One observation – students who struggle at traditional school often blossom in the hands-on, learner led environment. Why? They learn in an active, kinesthetic way with a different mindset – students are encouraged to follow their passions.

I’d like to see the collaboration continue between the ideas of Forest School and public schools. The tide is slowly turning as people see the benefits, strengths and collaborative potential of public schools and alternative pedagogical principles like Forest School’s learner led learning.

#1133 Education Information through Daydreaming

My wife found me standing motionless on our back deck staring at the half built tree house in our back yard. “What’s going on?” she whispered. I was absorbed in the creative process of the design/development of the tree house.

While I have a loose plan in my brain, the design process consumes a lot of creative energy and time to develop the next stages of the project. The process is influenced by research, engineer friends and serendipitous time that allows ideas to percolate.

I’ve used meandering mind process throughout my life while creating:
• stock imagery for the photo stock market
building cameras and developing art projects
• developing lesson / unit plans for students
• exploring my passions and path in education.

treehouse design

Creative play = new ideas

Quiet time with freedom to wander in thought has allowed for many breakthroughs in history.

I often spend time roaming the forest on skis, bikes or on foot and magnificent ideas often present themselves. Sometimes internet meandering opens doors, too. Below are some recent web wanderings in education:

Democratic Learning
People learn well when they are interested in what they are learning. Often I see students in class acting out or staring at the ceiling because they aren’t remotely interested in the lesson on the board. Last week I taught a challenging class with many characters who did not want to be there. In gym I asked what they wanted to do: “Floor hockey, basketball, hula hoops…” So that’s what we did. It was the easiest class of the day – students were engaged (and learning) because they had input and interest.

The Power of Outdoor Learning
I teach, part time, for Chelsea Forest School. We’re outside almost all the time. Students are learning at their own pace in ideas that interest them. It’s magical. I’m sometimes surprised at the learning that takes place when the students lead the learning – my job is to build the curriculum around their interests… I recently asked a traditional kindergarten teacher if she saw any changes in her students after they visited Forest School once a week for six weeks – “Oh yes! Their creativity grows…”

Better Behaviour Management
I often see “undesireable” behavious in elementary students. Understanding and changing the behaviour effectively takes patience and big listening ears. A year or so ago a Grade 4 boy refused to go out for recess. With lots of listening and gentle questions the real reason for his misbehaviour became clear – he was feeling uncomfortable around an overbearing boy at recesses. Connecting with the school support team, parents and addressing the boys’ actions helped resolve the situation while helping everyone save face.

So much to learn!
Our tree house grows, slowly, as I daydream the design. My teaching practice (and photo projects) continue to flourish as my mind wanders…

#1131 Looks Like Learning

As I look back on the last 25 years I smile at some of my adventures: swimming with dolphins in the Pacific, planting a quarter million trees, teaching via skis, camera, classroom and the forest, and GoPro style commercial art years before GoPro existed…

With the adventures came many bumps in the road – both small pot holes and bigger sinkholes that took more extensive extrication.

But everywhere I’ve been (and continue to go) keeps bringing me to similar places – (reasonable) risk taking, progressive education and creativity.

Learning limitations

What Learning Looks Like – Risky Play

Some ideas and people that have always made me smile:

Alfie Kohn – “Kohn’s criticisms of competition and rewards have been widely discussed and debated, and he has been described in Time magazine as “perhaps the country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades [and] test scores.”” (sited from Kohn’s site.)

Ken Robinson – Supporter of arts and progressive educational ideas. He has three relevant Ted Talks.

Learner Led Learning

What Learning Looks Like – Child Led Learning

Chelsea Forest SchoolChild Led Learning for National Capital area children.

Outward Bound – Exploring potential.

Learning takes many forms for many people – an idea that is often overlooked. I keep learning and realizing the potential in and beyond traditional classrooms. And so I’ll keep adventuring…

Multiple intelligences

What Learning Looks Like – Kinaesthetic Learning: learning by doing.