No Recess? No Good

Hi Readers! Meg Rosker is a writer, wife and mom of three in Redington Shores, FL. She blogs at withoutablueprint. To keep  recess alive and well at your school (or bring it back from the dead), check out the resources at saverecess.com,  Kaboom and Playworks! — L
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RECESS IS NOT A WASTE OF TIME by Meg Rosker
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“When my children come to school I want their bottoms in chairs, learning. When they come home, I’ll let them play.”

These words were spoken to me at a recent school meeting by a woman who is a parent AND a public school teacher. I had approached our neighborhood elementary school about re-instating recess into the daily schedule. Right now, only kindergarteners get 30 minutes a day of free time. By first grade, it’s over.

Nonetheless, another teacher pointed to her watch with annoyance and emphasized that, “We just don’t have time for this.”  After I wrote a letter to the editor in our local paper about the desperate need for recess, the school principal accused me of defaming the school and attacking the teachers   Then there was the long list of excuses of why recess doesn’t work:  “There are too many children. We can’t have proper supervision.” “Children get hurt at recess.” “Most write-ups occur during recess and we don’t want that kind of trouble. It takes away from learning time.”

And that was just the beginning. As my friend Michelle and I approached parents to sign a petition in favor of recess, countless said things like,  “I’m sure there is a good reason they don’t have it.” Or,  “I know someone on the school board and I know they would tell me not to signthat.”

Seriously, does anyone think for themselves anymore? Does anyone listen to that parental intuition that tells us what is best for our children?  There is no part of me that thinks allowing children to sit inside for six hours a day is okay.

But the question I left that meeting with was this: What in the world do these people think their children are going to be up against in the coming years, that to allow them even a half an hour of play during the school day could lead to their ultimate demise?

We are trying to protect our children from a danger we can’t even name!

Allowing this fear to grow will sicken our kids.  In fact, Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute of Play, determined that play is an absolute necessity in positive socialization. You can read more about it in his book, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul.

Once upon a little boy and a little girl were not allowed to go outside. They had to stay inside and study all day. They never got to go to the playground or dig in the sandbox.  They didn’t tie clover necklaces or learn how to play touch football. Instead they studied and got very, very smart.

The End.

Don’t you wonder what kind of people they will be? — M.R.

Yup. But I’d rather we don’t have to find out. Save recess! — L.

 

 

99 Responses

  1. Actually, studies have shown that depriving children of outdoor / play time hinders the neurological development which is necessary for intelligence, so taking away recess in lieu of “study” makes them stupid, not smart. If a child does not have a real life context of spatial relationships and physics that can come only through active play, they can memorize facts, but they cannot integrate or use those facts.

  2. I can see both sides.

    We have one child who went to a half-day kindergarten with two recesses (private, Montessori). We have another who went to a full-day kindergarten — they had recess, but not as much. Both are very bright, but guess which child learned more in kindergarten?

    Granted, there are other factors at work here. But I mention it to show that more time sitting in school does not necessarily mean more learning.

    But I feel for the mother who wanted her child to learn at school and play at home. The trouble is that school takes up so much time. The amount of learning acquired for the amount of time spent is pitifully small.

    Personally, I’d vote for no recess, no homework, and no more than a half day spent in school. Not that that’s going to happen, which is the major reason we turned to homeschooling: it provided our kids with both more learning and more time for play and “extracurricular” activities.

    But if the schools are going to insist on taking over children’s lives for so much of the day, by all means, let ‘em run around outside. And climb. And otherwise expend energy. (Oh, wait. I forgot; these are often banned activities.)

    I could almost guarantee that they’ll learn more that way.

  3. We attended a public school in Alabama last year that had no recess from 1st grade on up. I was shocked and amazed, so I asked the assistant principal. She said it’s because Alabama requires them to have PE every day. Um, yeah, so? In my mind PE is completely different from recess. Yes, the kids get to stand up and maybe even jump around, but it’s organized jumping around. Recess is about freedom. It’s about running in whatever direction you choose, playing whatever you want with whomever you want. It’s about screaming and laughing for a measly 20 minutes. And believe you me, there were some boys in my daughter’s 1st grade class who really needed some running and screaming time. I’m sure they made life really hard on the teacher who had to keep them in a chair from 8-3. It is completely absurd. I thought these people went to college to learn about children and how to educate them. Alabama is second to the bottom on the list of places to get a quality education, maybe it’s because their students are so wired their heads are about to explode.

  4. You took the words right out of my mouth Sarah. Personally, I think it’s just the schools way of saving their asses. Much like everyone else. With children “safely” nestled in their seats all day, how can they possible get hurt. That’s what they are thinking. No paper work, no angry parents, no law suits. And like I’ve always said, that’s thinking about themselves and NOT the children. When this IS all about the children.

    I hope she’s successful in reinstating recess for the kids.

  5. @ Sarah Faith, you beat me to it! I was planning to say the same thing about how play is important for brain development.

    My son goes to a school for high achievers in Germany. The kids in his school (5th to 13th graders) are the ones who are on track to get a university education. The courses are very fast-paced and rigorous. But Germans also believe that kids need breaks during the school day to be effective learners. After every two 45-minute periods at my son’s school, there is a 15-minute recess period. The Germans realize that having a child sit in class after class for hours on end only makes him tired and less able to learn. By having a 15-minute break every 90 minutes, the kids are better able to concentrate in their later classes. During recess the younger kids play pickup soccer games, while the older ones stand around and chat with each other. The kids can also have a snack or drink during recess.

    When my son was in elementary school (1st-4th grades), there was a 25-minute recess period in the middle of the school day. The kids played or had a snack during that time. It was very unstructured; kids played their own games.

    It’s interesting that German kids, who have daily recess, consistently outscore US kids on international tests of math, reading, and science.

  6. I meant to say that after every 2 periods before lunch at my son’s school, there is a 15-minute recess period. There is also a 45-minute lunch period for kids who have afternoon classes. In addition, there is an afternoon recess for kids who have late classes.

  7. Prisoners get more yard time than kids any more.
    And it’s not just at school. I bet those same parents yelling about school being for learning and play belonging at home rarely take their kids outside to just run around (and I doubt they would even consider letting them out on their own). Their after school hours are probably spent being ushered from one hectic, adult led activity to another, homework, dinner and bed.

    Sometimes the only time these kids get to play is at recess. I don’t remember getting much recess when I was a kid. I went to Catholic schools in the city. There were no playgrounds, just asphalt parking lots full of broken glass and who knows what else. There were no dedicated recess monitors. The teachers did that. And they were busy. They didn’t have time to take us out and stand and watch us for 20 minutes. They needed to be inside prepping for the next lesson. Gym was also at the teacher’s discretion (I didn’t go to a school with a dedicated PE program and teacher until I was in 5th grade). I remember having gym for 30 minutes once a month in 4th grade. I survived but my memories of those school years aren’t the greatest (especially 4th grade–that had to be the worst year ever).

    I’m glad my kids have lucked out. They went to a Catholic school for 3 years, not unlike the ones I went to, but the school at least tried for recess. They even got a grant to build a small playground next to the church. Now they are in a big public school and there’s a big playground outside the school. They get 3 (yes THREE) recesses every day: morning, after lunch and in the afternoon (they are 15-20 minutes long). They love it.

    Of course their day is a lot longer now. Last year they left for school at 7:35am and got home around 2:30pm (including their walk to and from school). Now they leave around 8am and get home at 4pm (including busing time). Yet I’ve seen a marked improvement in their grades, behavior and concentration. They come home at 4, get to work on homework, eat dinner at 5 and are out the door to play until it’s dark or I tell them to come in. The days they are worst behaved are the days the weather is dreary and they are stuck inside (both at home and at school).

    Recess and free outdoor play for the WIN!

  8. Physical activity and complex physical tasks build neural bridges that are essential for later learning. I can tell which of my students need remedial help by watching them at recess: the ones who can’t skip and hop and dodge around also can barely read.

    It’s also essential to get this training at an early age while the brain is still plastic; later in elementary school it is more difficult to build the information.

    Play *is* learning for children. Working with the hands is learning for children. Moving the body and giving the limbs complicated commands is learning for children — and until about age 26, when brain development is complete.

    The fact that this type of unstructured play also builds executive functioning skills doesn’t hurt either.

  9. My 5th grader has a small amount of recess for which I am grateful- last year the playground was redone, and they had recess but coudn’t run around. I asked her what was the point? And she said I know, all we did was stand around and talk. BRING RECESS BACK!! or MAKE IT BETTER!!!

  10. I’m really surprised, I thought schools were required to have recess. At my kids school, in Missouri, recess went from 15 minutes last year to 20 minutes this year. They said that it was by order of the government, they wanted kids outside playing for 20 minutes a day. They also have a shorter recess period before lunch. I’m shocked that some other state governments would ban recess while other state governments are extending it!

  11. The not enough supervision excuse is absurd. Have the classroom teachers take the kids out for recess during the day at whatever time is most convenient for them. That way there’s only a classroom or two worth of kids out playing with the same number of adults as they have in the regular classroom.

  12. As sue mentioned earlier about German recesses, we have a similar system in Finland, except that students get a 15-minute recess for every 45 minutes spent in class. And according to the international PISA scores, this system definitely isn’t hurting their scores…

    I remember moving from America to Finland while in elementary school. The proper recesses really made a huge difference. And they were also necessary, because the studies on a much higher level, so it would have been impossible for Finnish students to take in that much information without consistent breaks.

  13. These anti-recess people have obviously had their brains sucked out of them.

    Children need to do a lot more playing and a lot less formal learning. Why push them, for example, to read so early (for no purpose!)?

    P.S. Of note on Election Day, the elementary school I dropped my ballot off at had, what seemed, every single kid outside playing at 10:15 in the morning. I was so surprised! ’twas a crazy number of kids, too.

  14. What kills me is the mom who’s saying school is for learning and home for play. I wonder if she considers homework play, or if that’s the first thing she makes her children do when they get home and absolutely no play until it’s done. Also, as adults in the work force, we’re entitled to at least a half hour lunch and two 15 minute breaks during an eight hour workday, but our children, who are putting in the same amount of time, if not more, are not entitled to the same treatment.

  15. In regards to Linda W’s comment above about the amount of learning that takes place being very small compared to the amount of time given to it…YES! This is one of the main reasons we homeschool our children.

    So often when I’m at dance or other classes for our girls I listen to public school parents talk about how they need to go home and do 1 or 2 hours of homework with their kids each evening. Mind you, these are all kids who are in full-day school, and are between the ages of K-3rd. This just floors me as I can (most days) easily accomplish *everything* my 1st grader needs for a school day in 1-2 hours being one-on-one. The rest of their day is for art projects, imaginative play, outings, outside classes, free reading, visiting family/friends, and just being kids.

    It’s nice to say, “I want my kids to learn at school and play at home.” But after talking with most of the public school parents I know it seems that, after homework & scheduled activities happen, there really isn’t much free time even at home for simply playing and being kids.

    I think our 6-year-old put it best. While driving around town last weekend she asked us, “How come you never see kids playing outside in their yards?” One has to wonder if it’s so simple that even a 6-year-old can grasp the basic concept, why is it so darn hard for grown-ups to get?

  16. The problem isn’t recess but the time wasted IN the classroom during the school day with group work, time-consuming “projects,” making posters, watching videos, getting lectured on non-academic subjects (at assemblies) and so forth….if they would just buckle down and drill the kids, in that out-of-fashion, old-school way, they could have two recesses and still learn the same amount of material they’re learning now. It’s the modern methodology and also the curriculum (too much nonessential stuff in the curriculum and too little systematic mastering and building upon skills in gradual steps) that wastes time more than it is recess.

    The school day is too long anyway. They added 30 minutes back in the early 90’s to the school day where I live, and the kids didn’t learn anymore because of it.

    Here’s the truth – even if you don’t have recess, you usually have a lot of time spent socializing with your classmates in elementary school. Why not cut the group work, face the desks in rows forward toward the teacher instead of in groups with students facing each other, and leave the socializing for the playground?

  17. Play time (recess) is a time when children can learn to interact socially with their peers.
    They are learning how to share, talk to each other, all manner of other things.

    Just because they are nailed to a chair for 61/2 hours each day without a break does not mean they will learn any more, any faster.

    yes there can be problems on the playground with bad behaviour etc. But from experience I know that those very same children will cause disruption in the class with no break.
    Some people need to realise there is more to life than constant academic and structured play.

  18. Sky -I think you’re missing a key component of that “wasted” time. Group work fosters team work and social interaction. The negative is like the other adult led activities, it can stifle creativity because there are instructions and a process. There is a necessity though in learning how to work as a group and it is a lifelong skill. The assemblies, not so much. Those were likely a planned activity to absorb what would have been recess time. In Chicago the school day is among the shortest in the nation and I’m pretty sure they are not leading in test scores…

  19. This really is kneejerk stupidity – ‘More learning *must* make kids smarter!’ I, for one, know that the quality of my work declines if I don’t get a break, so, even in these days of presenteeism, I always take my lunch break. If I have to work without a decent break, I am just useless by about 4pm. And the same applies to children.

    It also worries me because it fosters the idea that taking a break is bad and unproductive. I am a vehement opposer of people working absurd hours, quite often without their managers actually caring a jot, because they think it will get them a promotion or worry it will ‘look bad’ or make them first for the chop. People need the confidence to know that it’s the quality of what they do that matters, not staying in the office until 10pm (and almost certainly doing substandard work). Because the more people do that, the more the top brass will be inclined to expect people to do so. And I think the whole denying recess thing is linked to this particular pathology.

  20. Just wanted to comment that the saverecess.com link isn’t working, and when I type it in I get a GoDaddy page. Is the site gone?

  21. if they would just buckle down and drill the kids, in that out-of-fashion, old-school way, they could have two recesses and still learn the same amount of material they’re learning now.

    There is a time and place for drilling, yes – but do you know *why* it is out of fashion?

    It’s out of fashion because the emphasis now is on understanding the material instead of simply regurgitating it. No amount of drill is going to teach you to understand new vocabulary words through context, or to recognize similar problems in wars from 100 years ago and today.

  22. Susanna — I think it’s supposed to be saverecess.org (not .com). I noticed the kaboom site link doesn’t work, either, so I’ve linked them below.

    Lenore — I noticed the links for saverecess and kaboom are tacking on the intended site (in the form of “www.kaboom.org”) to the end of the blog post’s link. I think that comes from only doing “www.kaboom.org” when making the link, instead of doing “http://www.kaboom.org”. That “http://” is very important! :)

    http://saverecess.org/

    http://kaboom.org/

  23. if they would just buckle down and drill the kids, in that out-of-fashion, old-school way, they could have two recesses and still learn the same amount of material they’re learning now

    Considering that recess is typically only 20 minutes long, that’s not really saying much about the “drill them” method…

  24. I recently went on a trail ride with an 80 year old woman. She was not at all a cowgirl, and had not ridden in several years. We were careful to give her the most calm and reliable horse in the barn. But she was able to ride, and have a good time, because she spent some amount of her youth doing physically active things, including learning to ride. I think part of the problem for modern parents and recess is that so many parents nowadays think that “playing” means video games. I don’t know if the public schools that do have recess allow video games, but I bet that the mother who said that she wants her child learning in school and playing at home, the kid is playing video games, not hide and seek outside. I was wondering, as I was riding with this 80 year old woman what today’s video game players will do for a nostalgic good time- play out-of-date video games?

    I know this is not exactly about recess, but it is about physical activity, and lifelong learning.

  25. What amazes me is that most parents I speak with didn’t even know the local schools don’t have recess until I mentioned it 2 days ago!

    Has anyone noticed the high rates of diagnosis for ADD and ADHD in schools without recess? Instead of recess, let’s just given them drugs to make them calm!

  26. I recently switched my four year old from a traditional pre-school type environment, where they sat and ‘learned’ for most of the day, to a play based daycare, where all they do is play. They have a huge playground (with swings, and slides, and even a rope climb! and a regular supply of ice packs.) and a bunch of rooms with toys with no batteries. Everything the kids do is self directed. They mix with other ages, they play what they want, and they determine when they interact with an adult. I cannot tell you enough how much happier she is in this new environment. She’s more relaxed, easier to get along with, sleeps better and a lot more interactive with the adults in her life. Her imagination has just seemed to blossom, and she’s much more interested in learning on her own. Kids NEED play. A LOT of play. To take it away from six year olds is ridiculous.

  27. One of the moms in my mom group was telling us a few weeks ago that her son’s school now has Gameboy time…a slot of time every Friday where everyone can sit around and play on their Gameboy.

    Besides fostering a spirit of resentment in those kids whose parents can’t afford to buy (or don’t want to buy) their kids a Gameboy, what kind of example are they setting for these kids that they can have Gameboy time instead of time to run around getting exercise and expending pent up energy!!!

  28. When I read you blog (I like it very much), I get the impression that American Kindergardens are scary, scary places.

    Both my sons are at the same Kindergarden where we live (Germany)

    The yougest (20 months) has a structured day at KG, but it consist of eating, playing and maybe 15 minutes of koncentrated planned work with the teachers, the res of the time is play and sining, and looking at picture books. He is learning to play in a group, practice patience etc.

    The older one (5 yo) has a bit more plan and structure. he is only there from 8-12.
    They start at 8 with either play or breakfast (children decide what they want)
    At around 9:15 they all come together (24 children age 2,5-6) and have their morning conference. Here they talk about what day it is (they have a calender to mark the weekday, day and month), what the weather is like (again a chart to indicate rain, sun, ect) and who is missing today and why!
    After that the “learning” start, depending on the age, colors, painting, cutting, etc is done under supervision with a specific (age relevant) goal. That is 30-40 minutes. After that there is play time and snack until they get picked up.
    Goal is to be outside to play min. 30 minutes a day (they have a nice big playground with sandbox, “firefighter pole” with a “rabbit-hole” as well, slides and swings)
    All children have rubber boots, jacket and pants for the wet days..

    Both my sons are learning a lot, have friends, learn to deal with others, know their colors and forms (well the big one does anyway), the youngest has a girlfriend…

    The teachers care about the children, and both of them love to get out of the door each morning to go there.

  29. “There is a necessity though in learning how to work as a group and it is a lifelong skill. ”

    The only problem with this is that I never learned how to work as a group from mandatory “group work” in school — but I scuppose you could say at least I learned something about how NOT to work in groups.

  30. It’s ridiculous to drop recess. Kids need breaks just like adults do, probably even more. As so many have already said here, they can focus better after a break. Give back recess and the teachers might not have so much chaos from kids who need physical activity wriggling around in the classroom rather than focusing on whatever the teacher is trying to teach

  31. Leppi, one thing to note that “kindergarten” in American schools does not mean what it does in Germany. Except for some places that have started having classes for younger students (which I believe is a mistake), kindergarten in the U.S. is for five- and six-year old children.

    Pentamom, I agree wholeheartedly about group work in school! What I learned from group work: (1) how to shoulder all or most of the work to get a decent grade because others were slacking off, and (2) how to leech off others who could do the work that I didn’t understand. In both cases someone had to do more than his share of the work, and someone did not learn the material but was graded as if he had.

    Sometimes this happens in the workplace, too, but generally adults have more options in dealing with it.

  32. Even young animals play to learn. Doesn’t it make sense that it would be the same for our children?

  33. Ive never heard of such a thing! Here in Australia you usually get ‘little lunch’ and big lunch’ but our school has changed it to the big lunch first (10 minutes must sit and eat then you can play for 35 mins) and afternoon tea which is another 20 minute break. How do those poor kids sit all day.. and when do they eat?

    maybe Im lucky and my girls go to a small innercity school, so no problems with numbers.

  34. also maybe its easier here as our schools are open plan (not one big building – we have lots of little buildings joined by walkways) and you sit outside on the ground to eat lunch – so you are eating where you play anyway… benefits of a warm climate I suppose.

  35. Another reason I now homeschool my kids. Because kids have energy! They need to burn it off! Sometimes every 20 minutes we need to just run laps around the house.

    Is there any REAL wonder about why our nation is so overweight? And the government wants to institute LONGER school days?!? Dangit! Just cut them in half and make the classes smaller. Separate kids into learning groups that match their abilities without regard for age or trying to make sure “no child is left behind.” They can learn until they get the material and move on as quickly as they need to.

    WE NEED EXERCISE. We need free play and creativity. We need art classes that don’t have instructions but instead have big buckets of paint and clay and a “teacher” who helps to open the tricky tops but doesn’t lead them. We need HAPPINESS in our educational buildings and HAPPINESS in our kids. That won’t be achieved by forcing them to sit still for 7 hours straight.

  36. The comments from the other parents are sad. It is amazing how quick some people are to make their kids school/learning experience as miserable as possible, and then they tell them to ‘grow up’ and ‘learn to deal’ with life.

    Are they trying to convince their kids…..or themselves.

  37. Today children are being factory farmed in schools just like animals-confined to a small space-their desk and chair- and fed facts and figures (like an educational feed lot) that they will be expected to regurgitate over the years in every compulsory exam and test that tests nothing but how well the student performs in exams….and how well the teacher has taught to the test.
    So just like animals In one door and after years of confinement out the other… schools are designed to do just one thing- to contain and manage large groups of children while their parents are at work and they haven’t moved on from this 19C industrial model. 

    In high school timetables dividing the day into 40 minute lessons isolating each subject to be studied without any natural and obvious connection to other subjects and the bell rings and the hallway shuffle starts again to the next room and the allotted time for that subject- where most of the students sit like disengaged zombies.
    Younger kids sit confined for hours while the system and teachers ignore the obvious-that the most effective learning happens outside the classroom exploring the world in a structured and unstructured way-recess and play are part of this and a wide multisensorial experience. I am an ex (completely disillusioned) art and photography teacher….

  38. There was wisdom in that old saying:
    All work and no play
    Makes Jack a dull boy.
    AAD and ADHD are not caused by lack of recess. But I’d venture that all kids will display these tendencies if not allowed a chance to wear off some of that energy.
    A few unstructured minutes are a good thing. My own ADHD boy has shown this, even in the school where he was written up for–sit down for this–kicking a soccer ball.

  39. The idea of locking kids inside all school day is so stupid I can scarcely credit it.

    I don’t think we in Australia are yet copying that fad but I guess it’s coming.

    And the observations about peoples’ apparent utter inability to think for themselves is both apt and scary.

    I have signed up to become a grumpy old lady and now make public fusses about everything that I think is stupid, pointless, harmful or just wrong minded.

    Like at the post office yesterday, when the clerk wanted photo ID before he’d send my parcel. Yes, I know he didn’t make up that rule but I still pointed out that I am an Australian housewife and not a Yemeni terrorist (in a friendly not noisy or aggressive way).

    This is not pointless carrying on: Everyone is always watching everyone else for clues about how to behave. Let’s model commonsense and independent thinking for our fellow citizens.

    C.

  40. I am so stunned I can’t formulate a coherent reply!

    Although the times and arrangements vary from school to school here in NSW, Australia, all school students get recess (about 20 mins) and lunch (40 mins). Some schools also have an extra break known as “fruit break” where they are allowed 5 minutes to have a piece of fruit at their desk (to take into account the fact that many children have breakfast before their 7am trip to before-school care).

    The issue of supervision is managed in some schools by staggering the times of recess and lunch (e.g. some schools have half the school having lunch earlier than others, then those early lunchers have recess in the afternoon rather than the morning).

    I really should stay away from FRK when I’m feeling tired and cranky. It just makes me want to smash heads in (the cotton-wooling, ridiculous-rule-making-and-following type heads, that is).

  41. This elimination of recess models a certain very undesirable adult provlem–workaholic success-driven parents who are too busy to take time for themselves, their mates or their children.

    That is, children who have “work work work” drilled into them as students in school–no time to play, got a ton of homework etc–are being trained to grow up to be workaholic parents who never have time for their hobbies, or a social life, & whose kids almost never see them.

    My kids get to play, & always will as long as I have a say. I myself take time to play, to participate in my own hobbies, to get away with my wife WITHOUT the children.

    Having recess is the child version of this & I intend that to be what they’re taught.

  42. I actually thought this post must be a joke when I first started reading. The idea of removing free play time from children is absurd and frightening. I’m also in Australia, the primary school my daughters attend is over my back fence and twice a day (11-11.30, then again 1.40-2.30), I have the inestimable pleasure of hearing children shriek with laughter, shout and yell, chase each other, pretending to be horses, swinging on the monkey bars, kicking a football round (it’s not banned here yet thankfully) etc. I know there are also quieter kids building fairy houses under the trees, reading books and just hanging out, and mixing and making friends with kids from the other grade levels.

    And they have PE too!

  43. I can’t believe that the quote at the beginning of this article came from a teacher! I hope she never gets near any of my kids.
    My husband is a teacher (he’s taught 2nd, 3rd and 4th grades over the years) and he notices a HUGE difference when kids don’t get recess. We sometimes get really heavy rainstorms in our part of the world and he’ll come home just exhausted. I’ll say “no recess today?” and he’ll say “yes, and they didn’t learn a thing all afternoon”. And that’s with a 30 minute indoor play time. I can’t imagine how kids could learn all day with no down time at all.

  44. I’m horrified – surely this is a big contribution to obesity and later life illnesses. I’m also in Australia & am really happy with the balance at school. Our school structure goes like this – 8.50 arrive, 9am – 11am lessons, 1/2 hour break outside, 11.30 – 1.30 lessons, 10 minute sit down eating, 50 minutes outside play, 2.30-3.30 lessons. If it’s actively raining during break periods free play activities are set up inside. Junior school classes (kids under 8) also have a few minutes for a healthy snack in the classroom at 10am – this must be fruit or veges. And, there are active lessons through the curriculum including PE, dance, performance/music etc. Science often takes them outside. And I have no issues with how much my child is learning. She loves school.

  45. Not sure what happened with that smiley face, that was ‘kids under eight’

  46. I’m another Australian mum and I’m staggered that you don’t have recess in America. Like others, we have two recesses each day – school goes from 9.00am to 3.30pm.
    My boy started Prep this year and it was pretty hard going on some of the parents. They’d come from kinder (pre-school) or childcare where the kids are supervised every minute of every day to school where for recess and lunch there is a teacher on ‘yard duty’ but they don’t directly supervise all kids at all times. Some of the mums asked if the Prep kids could have a separate space to play in or whether they could have their own special supervisor. They didn’t like the games that were being played or their children were nervous about sharing space with the big kids. The Principal, to his credit, said no and everything pretty quickly settled down.
    The kids take care of each other and there’s always a big kid to race and get the teacher if a little kid gets hurt or distressed. Now at the end of the year, there haven’t been any problems. The kids play basketball together, or they ambush the big kids, or play jails on the play equipment (yep, real play equipment!) and some of the Preps are now holding ‘meetings’ at recess to devise strategies to save the world. (I asked my boy if he was joining in and he said “I just DON’T have time – I have to play basketball at lunch time”).
    And on a rainy day they don’t get rid of recess. They have a ‘wet day timetable’ which means that instead of having free play outside the kids have free play in their classrooms.

  47. I am speechless! I have no teaching degree but I have three kids under the age of 10 and I can tell you that there is no way it is healthy for them to be cooped up for all that time. I read somewhere (God knows where because my memory sucks) that a good way to ensure that your children are getting enough exercise is to make sure that they are not sitting or inactive for more than an hour at a time. My 7yo goes to school from 7 am till 2.45 pm. He has 2 recesses a day, one short one long, and 3 PE classes a week. Because his school day is so long they only give small amounts of homework because he is meant to have done it all at school. It is insane for them to put so much pressure on kids!

  48. Recess was one of the best parts of elementary school. Yes I got in trouble (a couple of fights). But frankly that’s good for a kid. I don’t want my kid to be some namby-pamby wimp. I want him (or her) to be able to fight for themselves. That’s not to say I want them to be in fights every day or be a bully. But if my kid choose to defend himself against the school bully (as I did those 2 times), I have no problem with that.
    Also, some of my fondest memories was swinging on those gigantic ancient swing sets, and spinning on the tire swing until I got sick. Not to mention playing the ground is lava on the jungle gyms, or waiting in line with my friends for tether ball when I was “too old” for jungle gyms. I’ll be saddened if my future children don’t have reccess and I can’t connect with them in that way.

  49. Sorry if I bore everyone, but I have to share a story from my own childhood back in ancient times.

    I went to a rural school with one playground and one schedule for all the kids from K- grade 7. We had a 20 min morning recess and about 40 minutes after lunch. One of my clearest memories of those years is a beautiful, warm June day in grade 7 near the end of the school year. My friend and I were swinging and talking about our upcoming move to high school in fall. Suddenly she said “there won’t be any swings next year”. I knew exactly what she meant. No recess, no playground, no play; time to grow up. This was our last chance to be little kids.

    Even at 12 (almost 13!) this seemed like a huge transition. We were ready for the most part, but the thought of no recess and no swings really brought it home. I can’t even fathom how you could expect a child of 5 or 6 to give up recess all day in the name of “learning”.

    By the way, my friend and I stayed out swinging that spring day long after the 2nd bell had rung. The detention we got was well worth it!

  50. I am moved to interject and ask a question. Living in Australia I am not knowledgeable about American school routines. Are you saying that kids do not get recess? Can you tell me what the school day looks like in terms of time? How dreadful! Play is vital!
    Cheers,
    Terry

  51. Melanie, our school solved the “nervous preps” problem by giving the preps a separate play-time in first term, so they could all play together on their own without the big kids rushing around, and get familiar with the (very large) school grounds. By second term they are all confident enough to mingle and hold their own with the older children, and indeed terrorise them occasionally!

    One of the things I like best about our school is the way the grade levels mix together, the big kids look out for the little ones and there are numerous friendships across the year levels (having combined classes helps too).

  52. The problem with “work at school, play at home” is the while she or I might give our kids that time to play, most parents aren’t. If you work a full time by the time you get home, it is time to start dinner, baths and bed. If you are lucky enough that your kid has done their homework then they might get a few minutes of play time while you cook. Otherwise, they sit and do work during that time.

    I’m lucky enough to work half time but still we have nights were they MIGHT get outside for 30 minutes. Especially Monday. We stay and play about 20 minutes after school, then once we get home, everyone takes a rest (my youngest is in K and it is wiping her out), then it is snack, homework, off to pottery, drive through dinner, drop the other at TKD. By then it is dark and time to start the bedtime routine. In 5 hours, they got 30 minutes of outside time and 30 minutes of down time.

    I do understand the concern about the lack of supervision. Due to a bullying issue, I’ve been at school for recess the last few weeks. There are usually 3 adults for 60+ kids that are strung from one end of the playground to the other. Yesterday, 2 of the adults were playing soccer with a group of about 10 kids. That left one adult for 50 kids. No wonder kids are getting hurt and bullies are running unchecked.

  53. For those of you not familiar with the American school system, our formal schooling starts around age 5 with K. Some school districts also offer what is referred to as “universal PreK” starting at 4, but in general, attendance is not mandatory for PreK programs. Prior to K, children generally attend what we would refer to as a “daycare” (a larger group setting) or a babysitter (more one on one, sometimes in the caregiver’s home, sometimes in the family’s home) from birth to around age 3 or 4, and a “preschool” for ages 3 or 4.

    School goes through roughly age 18, when we graduate from grade 12 and either move onto college, military, or work. If you are a homeschooler the amount of paperwork you need to turn in, and the age at which you need to start reporting it, also varies greatly by state. Generally our grades are broken down so that K-4 or 5 is Elementary school, 5 or 6-8 is Middle school, and grades 9-12 are High school.

    Here in our part of NY state the school day starts around 8:30-9:15 and finishes anytime from 2:15-3:15. Most schools have programs for early drop off or late pick-up for families who need it.

    There are wonderful public and private schools here that encourage play, and unfortunately, many others that do not. Sadly, there definitely seem to be more ones that don’t.

    As for the person who asked about lunch, as far as I know all schools are required to give the kids a lunch period. However, how long that period should be, where it takes place, the quality of the food served, etc varies greatly from school to school.

    I know that one of our friends in another part of the state has had issues with her son’s lunch time. They have 20 min to get in line, get their food, eat their food, and line back up to head out for about 15 min of recess. The teachers regularly stand over the kids and demand that they “eat faster” threatening that they won’t get their recess if they don’t. The truly sad part is that this particular little boy is VERY obese. NOT someone who should be getting rushed through his lunch & then deprived of active play time! Even sadder, this incident occurred when he was in K!

    So, yes, there is a HUGE variety about how schools are run here in the US. Each state, and in fact each school district (and even, to an extent each school within a district) will run their day a bit differently. Which is why you will hear so many families discussing whether they live in a “good” school district or not. Of course, what “good” means varies greatly for each family.

  54. Holly’s description of the American school system is a good one, but I will add that many of us do not send our children to any form of preschool or daycare before kindergarten. We have found that informal learning at home is more than sufficient to prepare them for excelling academically in school at a later date.

    It’s also important to remember that the rules vary from state to state. In Pennsylvania, where my daughter and her family live, formal schooling is not mandatory until age eight. Usually children will go earlier than that, but they don’t have to.

  55. LInda,

    Thanks for the extra clarification. Those points occurred to me while typing it, but for the sake of keeping it a bit shorter I decided to give the “cliff notes” version. ;-)

    Here in NY children are required to attend starting at age 6. In VT, where we used to live, I believe the age was also 8. Generally, requirements for homeschooling reflect those ages as well. So, we were not required to submit paperwork for homeschooling until our daughter was 6 here in NY.

  56. I interned at an elementary school in Finland for 3 months 2 years ago. Finland is constantly used as an example of one of the best public school systems in the world. Not only do they have recess, but they have 15 minute breaks where the children go outside 4 OTHER TIMES throughout the day! I thought it gave necessary mental space for the children AND teachers, helping prepare everyone to switch gears to the next lesson. Also, the teachers who were not on outdoor-duty would meet in their lounge and drink coffee and eat snacks people had brought in, and talk. There was a lot more community fostered among the teachers due to these extra breaks, as well.

  57. It’s frustrating here. It was 50 or 60 F on wednesday, and they had no outdoor recess because it was ‘too cold’. Indoor recess is in the classroom. It’s not really recess, it’s just classroom time. The gym is also the cafeteria, and PE is only 2x’s a week. It’s 6 hours a day- these kids need to move and have time to just be goofy kids.

  58. For those posting from other countries, I just wanted to say that most schools in the U.S. actually DO have recess. I agree that this is very disturbing that this school has taken away recess, and hopefully this is not becoming a trend. But my daughter attends first grade at a public school in Michigan and has at least one 20 minute recess after lunch and sometimes a second recess. She also has gym class almost every day.
    The only time they don’t get outdoor recess is when it’s extremely cold or raining (which does admittedly happen quite a bit in Michigan).

    @Leppi from Germany, your description of your 5 year old’s kindergarten sounds almost identical to my almost 5 year old daughter’s preschool, which is also half day and 3 days a week.

    For those who homeschool, such as Holly above, while I believe that homeschooling is a very valid choice with many wonderful positives (and I’ve considered homeschooling as well), just because public-schooled kids are not playing in their yards during the day, does not mean they aren’t getting lots of play time. My first grader gets plenty of time to play with her friends at school, goof off at lunch time, run around at recess, laugh in the hallways as they’re heading to their lockers, make up games in the corner with friends or feed the class fish and guinea pig together, and read books on her own. She does not do 2 hours of homework a night. Maybe we’re lucky that we have a good public school. If I ever felt it was not a good environment for her, I’d yank her in a heartbeat.

  59. I would love to hear people’s thoughts, comments, and reactions to this nut-free craze we are currently in. In a society where obesity in children is an epidemic, I find it very frustrating that I cannot pack my daughter a healthy peanut butter sandwich for lunch. Her ENTIRE preschool is nut-free even though there is no one with a peanut allergy in her current class. There can be no peanuts in snacks, no peanuts in her lunch and no peanuts on school grounds. I think we are all going a little overboard with this.

  60. @Terry, a lot of American schools do still have recess, it’s just a growing trend not to. My daughter is in sixth grade (last year of primary school) and her school day looks like this:

    8-8:15 – Announcements
    8:15-10:25 – Lessons
    10:25-10:40 – Recess
    10:40-12:15 – Lessons
    12:15-12:55 – Lunch
    12:55-2:25 – Lessons

    At the secondary school she’ll attend next year, her day will start about 20 minutes earlier and end about 30 minutes later. They don’t have recess at that level, but do have a 15-minute “nutrition” break at midmorning to get a snack, socialize, etc. This is about equivalent to what I experienced in school ~30 years ago.

  61. All work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy.

  62. Yes, some of us do listen to that voice. We home school. Our children hang from trees, jump rope, and play games. We do our lesson work, do our chores, run to a piano lesson or sports activity, and still have time to play.

  63. [...] depressing stuff today – about one school that doesn’t allow anyone over the age of 6 to have recess, kids not feeling protected from their tormentors, and so on – so I needed a pep [...]

  64. Lenore, I was at your talk in Sydney recently for the Festival of Dangerous Ideas and at the time supressed the urge to stand up and shout “Yes I work there!” when you were talking about the limitations placed on kids’ play in schools nowdays, particularly not being allowed to run or play tag. This story reminded me of that urge. Worst of it is, I’m a HIGH SCHOOL teacher!

    My suburban Sydney government school prohibits running on any non-grass surfaces for fear of students hurting themselves or others. However the large oval on which kids are permitted to run is frequently out of bounds as it gets muddy after rain (who wooda thunk it!?) and the other grassed area is designated a “passive recreation area” where the teenagers are presumably supposed to sit demurely and discuss the philosophical leanings of modern reality tv. When on playground supervision in the “passive” area I make it a personal policy not to notice that kids are playing soccer or footy but I have been chipped by more senior teachers for letting them get away with this. I questioned the rule and tried to point out that physical activity is conducive to learning and that some of the more unruly Yr 10 boys would be much more attentive in class if they’d had a bit of physical exercise (or at least be less restive and disruptive) but all I got was the reply that that’s the rule and we have to obey it. This from more than one of the executives who voted on the rule to begin with! Apparently, this policy trend is coming from the principal who is fearful of litigation should any student be injured. Too bad that their muscles (and minds) are atrophying.

  65. Yeah, people hardly ever speak of children as “bright” anymore. Kids who play actively and follow their dreams tend to become “bright.” It doesn’t take much to learn academics if you already know how to think. Well, unless the learner has special needs.

    Let’s think about how we learn as adults. Personally I learn best in short spurts, interspersed between stretches of “real life.” I am actually unable to “listen” more than a few minutes without having something to do with my hands (Mah Jong works). And I’m what you’d call a “high achiever.” (And I had recess as a kid.)

    We have kids in computer classes for years, with the idea that this is necessary for them to be able to do basic secretarial work or compose basic formulas by adulthood. Those of us who did not have computers in school learned these skills in a matter of minutes. Kids would learn them even faster if their brains were conditioned to actually think. And if that’s true of computers, why not other skills?

    I don’t know whether to be amused or concerned about the angst with which people talk about early childhood education nowadays. People speak of my 3-year-old’s education as if a lost day will mean a lifetime of mediocrity. Then I point out that I never attended a single day of preschool; arrived at half-day KG at age 4, and learned to read actual books within months. I put my kids in preschool to expand their horizons, not because I’m afraid they won’t pass the 1st grade otherwise. Ugh.

  66. And if it’s true that the schools can’t seem to logistically fit recess in, then someone needs to get to work on designing a better school. Why should it be such a big deal to go outside and play? How about a nice, safe courtyard that can be quickly accessed by all classrooms (or at least the younger ones)?

    And should we limit legal liability for things like recess accidents? Get rid of all the paperwork that must be filed for every bump or scrape? Make it easier to volunteer (as a recess monitor) without all the “risk management” cost and hassle?

    When I was in grades 5-8, we were allowed to go outside (if desired) whenever we finished eating our lunch. (This involved walking [without a teacher!] through several rooms and halls to the school parking lot.) Maybe there was a monitor on the playground, I don’t recall, but lunch recess wasn’t a big logistical nightmare. Miraculously, there were no memorable incidents stemming from this lack of control/structure. You know how they say, if you treat humans like animals, they will act like animals, but what if we treat them like humans?

  67. I always thought recess was so that the teachers could have a coffee break…

  68. Yeah, we’ve seen the demise of recess and more here.

    *Possibly boring contrast-and-compare story warning*

    My kids are teenagers in public school now, but for a few years they attended a small private “progressive” school. At the time it offered K through 12.

    There was a lot to like about this little school, but one of my very favorite things about it was lunchtime. They got an HOUR. And this was in addition to regular recess, plus the individual teachers had the freedom to declare additional recess time as warrented–say, for a reward, or as needed–if it had been raining for a week and the wiggles were overwhelming, for example.

    Anyway, with no cafeteria at the school, all the kids brought lunches and at noon all the classroom doors flew open and the kids poured out. They could choose to eat outside on the playgound, on the front steps of the school, in the classroom, even in the main lobby area, but mostly they chose to eat outdoors somewhere given our mild climate. Regardless of where they ate the only rule was “Behave and clean up after yourself”. After eating they could do whatever until 1 pm. Mostly this rule was followed by everyone the majority of the time.

    During lunch it was common to see a high schooler pushing a kindergartener or two on the swings, a group of fourth, fifth, and sixth grade boys building opposing forts out of pine straw and firewood, an impromptu kickball/football/wiffle ball/soccer game, or the middle school girls trying to teach the younger girls cartwheels or the latest dance.

    One year we had a couple of new boys who were brainy-yet-shy types, but in different grades. Neither was mixing especially well with the student body or their own peers. One weekend a couple of parents came in and secretly painted a few chess/checker boards on the sidewalks and left bags of chess pieces and checkers. (And no one got arrested!) Before the month was out the oldest of the two boys had established a lunchtime chess tournament, and the first graders were demanding to be taught checkers.

    There were always two adults on the playground during lunch, but often parents would spell the teachers if needed and it just wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t that no kid ever misbehaved, it was just that it was never a huge problem.

    Once we necessarily returned to the public school system, at my younger daughter’s school we found not only “break” rather than recess–10 minutes during which time they should use the bathroom and eat a snack–but also “silent lunch” with assigned seats. Yep, twenty minutes of stand in line, eat, and don’t utter a word to your neighbor who is likely not your buddy anyway. Amazingly, more parents complained than kids.

    Kids are learning whether we’re actively trying to teach them or not. I think it’s time we start asking what we’re really teaching them.

  69. Another European here. My kids are in elementary school, 8hours/day. They get 20 minutes recess midmorning, 30 minutes lunchbreak, and 90 minutes postlunch recess. Yes, that’s one hour and a half.
    During a period in the US, my daughter often didn’t have time to finish her lunch, even though I gave her about half as much as she normally eats: the lunch break was short and eating slowly meant going without recess. OTOH, the school playground was much larger than we have here.

  70. If your child is rushed through lunch, it’s probably b/c of overcrowding. They have to rotate all of the kids through the cafeteria, which is typically smaller than it should be. That’s not the school’s fault.

    My son goes to a private school and he has two recesses, lunch and a snacktime. They also have gym twice a week and swimming once a week. I’m certainly in the “keep recess” camp. I certainly want him to learn at school, but I think having breaks to burn energy will only help him concentrate better when it counts.

  71. Playing a bit of devil’s advocate here, but aren’t these same kids already sitting and “learning” through “educational” TV and video games for 6 hours or more on the weekends? They must be used to it and have outgrown the need for play. Outgrown being the operative word given the rate of childhood obesity and diabetes in this country!

  72. I’m curious if there is a geographic trend to not having recess as well as any average data on school performance. I mean no disrespect to anyone, but the perception of the quality of public schools in Florida (the no recess example) is poor. Here in New Jersey, at least in the suburbs, the perception of the quality of public schools is very good. My daughter is in second grade and they have recess every day – parents are told to be sure to dress children appropriately as it gets colder as the kids will be going outside. A couple years ago, there was an effort to put more “structure” into recess, but the experiment only lasted a year and the parents were generally the ones that got it overturned.

  73. My kids attend a private school in Spain. For ages 6 onwards, their timetable is more or less
    9:00-11:00 Lessons
    11:00-11:30 Recess (and snack)
    11:30-13:30 Lessons
    13:30-15:00 Lunch and recess (or the other way round, depending on the shift)
    15:00-17:00 Lessons

    That makes six 50 min periods. Of those, two double periods a week are PE (outdoors), and yet another one (single) swimming lesson. Homework largely depends on the age, but the school states that it shouldn’t last more than a given time (30-45 mins for my kids, ages 6 and 7).
    Eating habits are very different here: lunch is a three course meal, as is dinner, so we can space them out and end up having dinner quite late (about 21:00). So they have another 3 good hours for housechores and play.

    What amazes me most about your ways is that many people don’t seem to realize the logical sequence. You deny the premise that children (and many adults, BTW) are just incapable of sitting still and concentrating on abstract concepts for more than 50 mins, without some steaming off. Then, surprise, surprise, you get children who can’t stand still, speak loudly, act impulsively, can’t concentrate… And instead of considering if they are simply stressed out, some “experts” decide these are pathological disorders and resolve to drug them with amphetamines…

  74. As a Floridian I must comment on Ben’s perception. I’m sure it depends on where you are in Florida, but I would say the negative perception of the quality of schools here — compared with other American states — is wrong.

    Having experienced schools both here and in the Northeast, I’d stack ours up against those anywhere. Not only did our kids have recess, but they were able to take college-level courses (Advanced Placement, for those who know the U.S. system) beginning their freshman year in high school, which which was not possible in other places we knew of at the time. These were normal classes for high-level students in our normal public school.

    True, we did homeschool for a number of years, and I’d do it again — but that was for quality issues common to most schools, not just Florida’s.

  75. This is simply part and parcel the feminization of teaching practices.

    It is well known that girls are more able to sit for long hours at a time to learn, while it is pure torturous hell to force boys into that model.

    Myabe it’s “evening the playing field” by making schooling as impossible and unpleasant for boys as inhumanly possible.

    Replacing monkey bars and touch football with Gameboy is making our males softer, lazier, and not inclined to work hard. I know as a nearly 60 year old woman, I physically out work and out last the young college aged guys my company hires to move furniture. They are every last one of them soft and lazy, and act like they’ve just done me a huge favor by moving their feet out of the way while I vaccuum. It no longer shocks me to have a young guy in his 20’s stand by patiently as I load a large piece of furniture into his car for him.

    I don’t know what these mothers think their sons are “learning” by teaching them to be useless slugs, but it isn’t going to bode well for our society.

  76. Taking a break and getting the energy out is a good thing for human beings. That is why we have breaks at work. Recess can increase you child’s attention span. Playing and running cause the blood to flow and helps elliminate the distractions of having too much physical energy. Some high energy children are misdiagnosed as ADHD because sitting in a classroom does nothing for releasing the extra energy.

    A SCHOOL TEACHEER WHO DOES NOT KNOW THIS BASIC FACT IS A TERRIBLE TEACHER. I wouldn’t want her teaching my child.

    Instead of drugging our children, maybe we could give them play time?

  77. Sgt. Mom,

    You wrote the following:
    It is well known that girls are more able to sit for long hours at a time to learn, while it is pure torturous hell to force boys into that model.

    This is not true, in fact not even close. I have a high energy daughter who gets extra movement breaks during the day.

    You probably don’t mean to be sexist, but I would re-think this whole “girls don’t have as much energy thing”. Seriously, ever seen what they do in dance classes – talk about needing energy!

    Anyway, just want to point that out to you.

  78. Makes homeschooling look more and more inviting every day – get your schoolwork done in less time with less issues and play to grow the rest of the day, i.e., field trips, hands-on learning.

    Our elementary school still has recess (thankfully), but I was told the same thing when it came to Kindergarten Show-and-Tell time – NO TIME!!! Isn’t show-and-tell a rite of passage for kindergarteners? It’s an opportunity for the shy ones and not so shy ones to get comfortable (early on) speaking in front of their class.

    I shake my head every day at the society we’ve created. And can’t even BEGIN to imagine what it will be like for our children as adults. Sad.

  79. I shake my head every day at the society we’ve created. And can’t even BEGIN to imagine what it will be like for our children as adults. Sad.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about that. Even a cursory reading of parenting trends over the past few generations shows that things swing around and around. Right now we’re in a distastefully overworked peak of the pendulum, but soon enough we’ll be normal and then maybe too far the other way.

    It is well known that girls are more able to sit for long hours at a time to learn, while it is pure torturous hell to force boys into that model.

    Well known by whom?

  80. su N – I did NOT indicate that girls were ‘low energy” in any way, shape or form.

    I was a hyper active girl myself, and at age 57 STILL am more physically fit, stronger, and more hyper active than most young people of either gender I work with.

    It IS true, however, that girls-in-general are more ameniable to long hours of sitting and learning where boys are not. “Dance class” notwithstanding.

    Making ANY kid sit all day and ‘learn” is cruel and unnatural, but it is especially so for boys, who, by the way, are diagnosed 4 to 1 more often than girls with ADHD.

    You probably don’t mean to be myopic, but it goes far to explain why boys are so much more likely to be expelled, sent to the principal’s office, and why such huge numbers of prisoners are male adults with ADD.

    Anyway, just want to point that out to you

  81. Somebody up there mentioned SILENT LUNCH. With ASSIGNED SEATS.

    That is insane. I bet it was established at that school to prevent bullying and cliques at lunchtime. Instead of, you know, actually STEPPING IN and targeting the ACTUAL BULLIES by using ye olde Mark One eyeball, they punished everybody.

    Silent. Lunch. Insane.

  82. Yeah, I’m not getting who these little girls are who are so good at sitting still for hours at a stretch. My daughter and her classmates sure aren’t in that category! I admit that, from what she says, it’s the boys who get into more … shenanigans in the classroom. But picture to yourself my immense relief when DD’s new Grade 3 teacher, successor to the Grade 2 teacher whom she LOVED MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF, told me at Curriculum Night, “Oh, S is a great kid! You just have to realize that just because she’s constantly moving, that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s not focusing. I’m fidgety like that myself, so I can relate.” I was like, THANK G-D! How lucky are we, to have two teachers in a row who totally get it?!

    I’m not saying it’s not worse for boys. It may well be. I’m just saying it can be torture for little girls, too, and not necessarily a minority of little girls.

    Anyway.

    I’m horrified by the idea of elementary schools without recess. HORRIFIED. (Sorry, I know this comment is really shouty. But srsly. ELEMENTARY SCHOOL WITH NO RECESS?!?!) I looked at the timetable from DD’s school, and it says (greatly simplified) this:

    8:40-8:45 — entry
    8:45-10:15 — lessons
    10:15-10:30 — recess
    10:30-11:30 — lessons
    11:30-12:25 — lunch
    12:25-12:30 — entry
    12:30-2:00 — lessons
    2:00-2:15 — recess
    2:15-3:15 — lessons

    So that’s 5 hours in a classroom of some kind (less 40 minutes of PE 4 times a week), 90 minutes of eating and/or running around outside, and 10 minutes of dealing with boots and ski jackets and backpacks and so on. Which seems pretty reasonable. Also, some of those classroom hours are spent on drama/dance (1 hour/week), music (45 minutes/week), and art (90 minutes/week). And the Grade 3s do “reading buddies” with the JK/SK classes every Wednesday morning. I must say … as annoying as I find certain school and school-district policies — the no nuts / no peanuts policy, the decision to rotate access to the playscape by age group rather than just dealing with the specific middle-school kids who were bullying littler kids, the fear of scarves, the politely expressed dismay at the idea of seven- or eight-year-olds walking themselves to school — in a lot of ways I’m realizing that DD’s school is actually really awesome.

    I cannot IMAGINE how an elementary school teacher could come down on the side of doing away with recess. Someone who spends zero time around kids, okay. A parent whose particular kid is unusually placid, sure. But you’d think that working as an elementary teacher would be the world’s best and fastest crash course in Why Kids Who Never Get To Run Around And Take A Break Are Much, Much Harder To Teach. Sheesh.

  83. Making ANY kid sit all day and ‘learn” is cruel and unnatural, but it is especially so for boys, who, by the way, are diagnosed 4 to 1 more often than girls with ADHD.

    Unless boys are more often diagnosed because the people recommending a child for assessment or assessing the child think “ADHD is something boys get”.

    I do know women who have had trouble obtaining diagnoses of ADHD or of Asperger’s because “that’s something boys have” or, especially galling, “they would’ve caught it sooner, in your childhood”. (Really? Really? When you’re 45 years old and Asperger’s only entered the DSM within the past 20 years?)

  84. At my daughter’s elementary school they begin at 8:30 work until 11:20 have recess until 11:45 then on to lunch until 12:00 then back to working until 2:30. Their teacher, who is a wonderful 2nd grade teacher, gets them up and moving several times throughout the day for “brain breaks”. They may sing and act out silly songs (Baby shark is a favorite) or do jumping jacks and such. They problem is, and I feel bad for the teachers, is there is so much they have to teach them in one day. They move. And they move FAST! Math, grammar, spelling, reading, writing, social studies, science and history. Thankfully, they do not have a ton of homework, but I do feel sorry for my daughter. There a few things she is just not quite grasping yet because of the pace. The teacher will take time out of her lunch time to help kids who are not getting something. But because of all the federal and state regulations, they have to cram it all in. THAT’S the REAL problem!

  85. I’m a teacher. My current principal doubled recess a couple of years ago. My students get

    150 min of recess a week (30 min a day)
    90 min of PE a week
    45 min of Tech/Art/Library a week (We don’t have music this 9 weeks but will have it next 9 weeks
    45 min free choice reward time (This is paired with a specials period, students who have 5 demerits have a social skills class*/detention)

    *We have students who have been taught, if someone looks at you and you don’t like it punch him in the face. We actively teach basic social skills.

  86. Wow!!! Who would have thought that people could grow up to be so out of touch with childhood! I agree with everyone who has posted that recess is an absolute necessity!
    I have a friend who is an OT (Occupational therapist) who works in an educational setting, with kids diagnosed with developmentaly delays- severe ones. She had to put together a program call Boost Up (or she taught it, and developed it more where she works) where she had to teach kids how to roll, jump, and walk on a stright line! Without recess, this will be our “normal” kid!
    2 of my 3 kids have developmental delays. My older one goes to an autism program prechool through our local school district. We live in MN. Today it was only 40 degrees. They did not have school today, so the ECSE (Early Childhood Specia Education) teachers and specialists (OT and Speech), came in and had open gym for the ECSE kids to get a chance to play and socialize. And they had little updates for me on how my son is doing!
    My daughter goes to a different school district, and here is her 2 nd grad class schedule:
    Our Daily Schedule

    9:05 – 9:20 Beginning of the day and calendar

    9:20 – 10:50 Reading and Language Arts

    10:50 – 11:10 Snack/Milk Break (on Tuesdays, we will be having
    a grade 2 recess from 10:15-10:30. On Thursdays,
    we will be having a grade 2 recess from 10:30-10:45).

    11:10 – 12:00 Math

    12:00 – 12:25ish Journaling/Writer’s Workshop

    12:26 – 1:16 Lunch and Recess (Lunch is from 12:26 – 12:51)

    1:20 – 1:55 Break/Read Aloud

    1:55 – 2:20 Science/Social Studies/Health (On Mondays and
    Wednesdays, we will be having a grade 2
    recess from 2:00-2:15).

    2:30 – 3:20 Specialists
    And she LOVES school, and is doing great!!

  87. Silent lunch with assigned seats can be a legitimate punishment. My team had a problem with the students being to loud – as in the office couldn’t hear people on the phone.

    A list of Non-offenders was made. Those students were pulled from line and put at the front. They were assigned the table nearest the office and allowed to sit were they wanted at that table. They could continue to talk quietly.

    The other kids were assigned seats on the other three tables as they came out with their trays. They were not allowed to sit with buddies or arch enemies. Some students tried defy the rules. They were moved to the furthest table and are still on silence.

    The other group has earned back quiet talking and will be allowed to sit with friends Monday – but they know if the volume goes up again – it is back to silence

    Some of our kids are more like feral cats than children. We have very little support from home. We have to have conquences for bad behavior, but I have objected to blanket punishments. I always try to reward the students who are behaving while things are going nuts. This is especially true now, a teacher left for personal reasons and a month of subs while a new teacher was found Yikes. That group is off the rails

  88. Boy Behavior Leads to ADD Diagnoses

    “In our experience it is evidence that most of what is being called ADD today would not have been called ADD fifteen or twenty years ago and that much of it falls within the range of normal boy behavior.” – Dan Kindlon, Ph.D. and Michael Thompson, Ph.D., from “Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys.”

    The person most likely to be diagnosed with ADD is a boy in grade school. If you are the parent of such a child, you would do well to consider whether your child’s behavior is actually within the normal range of behaviors for boys, especially if his problem is mostly at school.

    Some neurologists contend that the DSM IV criteria used to diagnose ADD result in too many children labeled ADD, especially boys. In a Brazilian study, school children were selected at random and evaluated for ADD, first by using the current DSM IV criteria, and then using alternative “neuropsychologic criteria” which included items such as “altered tone: hypotonia or paratonia” and “difficulty in learning.” [1] When the DSM IV criteria were used, 25% of the boys were classified as ADD while 11% of the girls were so classified. But when the alternative criteria were used, 4% of both boys and girls were considered ADD. The researchers concluded that the use of DSM IV criteria overestimates the prevalence of ADD, especially among boys.

    The 25% diagnostic rate for boys cited above may seem rather unbelievable. Yet in a Virginia study of 30,000 children in two school districts, a full 20% of the 5th grade white boys were found to be taking medications for ADD in school. [2] All of these boys were officially diagnosed with ADD by “qualified” professionals. The potential rate of diagnosis must be even higher, since there were undoubtedly many parents who either refused to have their boys diagnosed with ADD or, if diagnosed, refused to medicate.

    Compared to girls, young school-aged boys are about one year behind in verbal abilities. They are less organized, more impulsive, have worse handwriting, are more active, and more impulsive that girls. And it is unlikely that their teacher was ever a boy and could really understand. Most teachers in grade school are women who enjoyed school when they were young.

    Most women teach to the girls, the little versions of what they used to be: organized, obedient, attentive and quite verbal. In the first few grades the focus is reading, writing, handwriting, listening to instructions, and being neat. I experienced this first-hand when my son was in first grade. He was complaining to me of being bored in school, and his teacher said he was often the first one done with classroom assignments. At home I could see he had abilities in math, science, geography and was a good reader, skills that my husband and I, both in technical fields, considered most important. But when I spoke to the school about accelerating him they countered that he had sloppy handwriting, was a poor speller, didn’t “write as much as some of the girls”, had a fidgeting problem, and was incapable of the organizational requirements of the next grade (in which all children were required to maintain daily planners to keep track of all their homework assignments!). In other words, he didn’t act enough like a girl to be accelerated. Math, science, history and geography took a back seat to sitting still and being organized.

    “When normal boy activity levels and developmental patterns are accommodated in the design of schools, curricula, classrooms, and instructional styles, an entire stratum of ‘boy problems’ drops from sight…Boys can achieve a high standard of self-control and discipline in an environment that allows them significant freedom to be physically active.” – Dan Kindlon, Ph.D. and Michael Thompson, Ph.D., from “Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys.”

    Adults often have unrealistic expectations about boys, for example, that they can sit still and be quiet all day, when they desperately need to run around and play. The human race evolved with men as the hunters and warriors. Boys instinctively mimic hunting and fighting in their play because it is good practice for the life of a future warrior and hunter. Historically, teenage boys often hunted and fought alongside the men. The instinct for boys to practice their hunting and fighting skills is undoubtedly wired into our species. Every fiber of their being tells them to move, to get physical, to play-fight. And then we ask them to get dressed promptly for school, sit quietly while they ride the bus for half an hour, sit in a chair quietly for six hours and listen to a teacher, organize their backpacks, sit still for another half hour ride on the bus, and then when they get home, do their homework! Should we be surprised when our more active boys show signs of emotional distress by acting out?

    If you have a young boy in this situation, you need to become his advocate. Don’t expect perfect behavior or perfect grades. Don’t overschedule your son: let him play. Let him move. Consider homeschooling. Tell your school district and teachers that you don’t want a lot of homework for young children. Don’t let the teacher take away recess as a punishment. And when your son doesn’t act like a perfect little girl, don’t assume he has a defect!

    Reading Disabilities: Learning disabilities, especially verbal ones, are common among boys labeled ADD. Some of these “disabilities” are undoubtedly simple cases of boys being expected to read and write as well as girls:

    “From kindergarten through sixth grade, a boy spends more than a thousand hours a year in school, and his experiences and the attitudes of the teachers and other adults he encounters there are profoundly shaping. The average boy faces a special struggle to meet the developmental and academic expectations of an elementary school curriculum that emphasizes reading, writing, and verbal ability – cognitive skills that normally develop more slowly in boys than in girls. Some boys are ahead of the others on that developmental curve, and some girls lag behind, but when we compare the average boy with the average girl, the average boy is developmentally disadvantaged in the early school environment.” – Dan Kindlon, Ph.D. and Michael Thompson, Ph.D., “Raising Cain.”

    Parents who homeschool their boys sometimes report that a developmental threshold is reached between the ages of eight and ten, after which boys suddenly start to read and write with ease. That’s between the third and fifth grades. But in public schools boys are expected to read and write in kindergarten or first grade, and if they do not they are labeled with a “reading disability.” Boys especially hate writing, which combines most of their weaknesses into one humiliating exercise: penmanship, spelling, grammar and vocabulary. Although my son was a good reader, his first grade teacher complained that he “didn’t write as much as some of the girls.” When I asked him about it he told me what his classmates had told him: “Writing is for girls!” Boys, when faced with an activity that makes them appear inept, will often attempt to save face by pretending they are not interested in that activity. And they may go so far as accuse other boys who do well in that activity as “acting like girls.” Soon there is ample peer pressure for boys to not to do well.

    While homeschooling I required my son to do two brief book reports each week. I discovered that my son had a much easier time writing once he could type on the computer and was writing about books that really interested him. His wild enthusiasm over books like “Bombers of World War II” and “Attack Submarines” translated directly into quicker book reports and made writing appear more masculine (and acceptable) to him.

    Discipline: Boys also attract harsher discipline than girls. They are more active, more accident prone, more likely to break things, more likely to get into fights, and less likely to try and please you. Parents of boys with chronic discipline problems often start out by having unrealistic expectations. It is especially problematic when a boy is compared to his sisters and found wonting. Such parents will make rules that boys cannot comply with, such as sitting still or picking up each toy before they take out another one. This results in a lot of yelling, removal of privileges, and nagging. In some cases it even leads to hitting or verbal abuse, such as telling a child he is a “no-good loser”.

    Many parents also just expect their boy to follow the rules out of the goodness of his heart. How naïve! Boys test the rules, and parents must be prepared for this by enacting reasonable consequences. Many parents and teachers are not even clear about the rules in the first place, and if they are, they do not let a boy know just how far he can push the rules or what will happens if he pushes too far. Many parents do not consistently enact consequences. Instead, they nag and threaten repetitively until one day they blow-up and over-react harshly. As the boy grows older there is often pressure to “crack down” on the boy.

    “The same raw energy and activity level that often put boys at odds with the school environment create similar tensions at home. A toddler runs toward the street, a young boy hits another child or runs recklessly through the house and causes damage, an adolescent disregards the household rules or defies his parents’ expectations. From the time a boy is old enough to get around freely, many parents view parenting as a struggle to determine whose will shall prevail.” – Dan Kindlon, Ph.D. and Michael Thompson, Ph.D. “Raising Cain.”

    Inconsistent discipline, harsh discipline, verbal abuse and unrealistic expectations can result in oppositional behavior, especially in children who have personality types inspired by independence and freedom. It is important for parents to realize that oppositional behavior may be a perfectly rational response to hostile parenting or teaching. Too often oppositional behavior is viewed as some sort of biological defect that adults can do nothing about.

  89. http://www.allianceforchildhood.org

    PBS documentary: Where do the Children Play?–

    Excellent.

  90. From http://www.allianceforchildhood.org:

    “Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School”

    Research shows that many kindergartens spend 2 to 3 hours per day instructing and testing children in literacy and math—with only 30 minutes per day or less for play. In some kindergartens there is no playtime at all. The same didactic, test-driven approach is entering preschools. But these methods, which are not well grounded in research, are not yielding long-term gains. Meanwhile, behavioral problems and preschool expulsion, especially for boys, are soaring. A flier and 8-page summary of the report, including recommendations for action, are also available.

    Fact sheet on kindergarten testing, with advice especially for parents.

    On May 28, 2009 the Alliance co-hosted a Congressional briefing on early education with the Forum for Education and Democracy.

    A webinar hosted by KaBoom! and featuring the authors of the report was recorded on June 2, 2009.

    Click here for media coverage of Crisis in the Kindergarten.

  91. Here’s a great video about the way our education system is designed and why it fails so many kids:

    Unfortunately it stops short of proposing a true alternative.

  92. Love this blog! I have 2 very different little boys. My 8 yr old cant wait for recess so he can play and get some energy burned. My 6 yr old who is in first grade uses his recess time to “chill out”. Sometimes just sitting on the picnic table to watch a kickball game. A break in such a long day is so important to either rid yourself of antsy pants or just to re-charge.

  93. My husband is on our local school board. There was a motion to replace recess with state test prep. This was voted down unanimously by the school board. Because our local school is pre-K thru 8th grade, we have a segregated by age recess — the little ones go before lunch and the older kids go after lunch. The strongest pro-recess voices were the teachers. We’re in the smallest district in the state and the teachers alternate as recess monitors.

    There was a common sense agreement between the teachers, the board, and the community that kids need to burn off that excess energy after warming a classroom seat.

  94. No recess? That’s hard to believe. From this part of the world (Scandinavia) is just sounds insane. Kids cannot take in new material in the classroom for hours on end. Without a break for physical activity, a large number of kids will just stop listening, stop processing what is being presented.

    Teaching children who are not ready to learn truly is a waste of time.

  95. I’m concerned about the mental health issues when schools do away with recess. You cannot push a child’s work-in-progress mind year after year without eventual repercussions. (And adults’ less-plastic minds too). Children that do not get a chance to blow off steam and rest their brains throughout the school day are at far more risk for developing anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses.

    Is it any wonder that depression has become more common in children today? Kids are not robots!!!!

  96. Q: Meggles : Kids are not robots!!!!

    Kids are NOT robots. They are ego trips, power trips and one upsmanship trips.

    It’s all in the bumper stickers:

    “My little genius is on the HONOR ROLL at ANYNAME Elementary/middle/High school”

    as opposed to:

    “MY little hoodlum can beat up YOUR little genius who is on the Honor Roll”

    What a CROCK!

    I also have two sons who couldn’t be more opposite.

    One flunked and failed all through school, graduating two years late without being able to read or write past a third grade level, the other an honor roll student now paying his own way through an ivy league university with a stellar grade point average.

    The true ‘genius’ of the two turned out to be the “dummy” who can’t read or write. There is nothing that boy can’t fix or figure out, and he makes a very lucrative career fixing and figuring things out for “smart” people.

    They don’t test for other aptitudes in school, such as Mechanical ability, which would have shown my older son is an amazing genius.

    There are artistic geniuses. There are musical geniuses. There are social engineering geniuses. Marketing genuises. ALL kinds of geniuses.

    All such ‘geniuses” are crushed, ignored, and talents wasted in the stampede to herd every child into the one and only recognized and highly over rated ‘scholastic” genius.

    Seriously. How STUPID is that?

  97. “All such ‘geniuses” are crushed, ignored, and talents wasted in the stampede to herd every child into the one and only recognized and highly over rated ‘scholastic” genius.”

    Or “cured.” Read Thinking in Pictures or check out Temple Grandin’s TED lecture for a look at why we shouldn’t be in such a hurry to “fix” people who don’t fit in.

  98. @Rhiannon:

    Thanks for sharing the link to the youtube video on education. Enjoyed very much:)

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