Recess Coaches: Good Idea?

Hi Readers! Well today a topic we’d discussed a little earlier (and earlier still)  has made the front page of The New York Times. “Forget Goofing Around: Recess Has a New Boss,” is about a recess assistant hired at an elementary school in Newark, NJ, where many of the kids had ostensibly been spending recess deliberately running into each other, or arguing, or banishing other kids to the sidelines.

The Times mentions that the coach broke up a “renegade game of hopscotch,” making it sound as if she is outlawing all that is joyous about childhood. (So does the headline.) And if there is an element of official kill-joying,  I hope the coach learns to back off. But her job is also to teach the students a vast array of what sound like fast, fun “just add kid” games — games with rules so simple that the children “can focus on playing rather than on following directions.” She lets them yell as much as they want, and jump around, and run.  Another school’s recess helper has taught kids how to settle their disputes with the age-old rock-paper-scissors, rather than  squabbling. (Or using a real rock. Or scissors.)

When we discussed this issue here a few months back there was concern that these “helpers” could actually be “squashers” — squashing kids’ inherent creativity, or problem-solving abilities, or even their right to daydream. After emailing with a couple of readers this morning, however, here’s an idea that makes sense:

One reader suggested that this would be a good program for kids who had gotten into recess-time trouble: make them participate in the organized games. Another suggested it would a be fine program, providing kids could opt out. But synthesizing these ideas makes even more sense: Make this program mandatory for everyone for a little while, and then allow kids to opt out. With all the kids participating, it wouldn’t get the reputation of punishment. Meanwhile, ALL the kids would learn a bunch of games — games they could eventually organize themselves, even outside of school. Or even during recess, without adult help!

In times past, and in some places to this day, kids grew up KNOWING how to play “Mother, May I?” and freeze tag and Duck, Duck Goose. When those games get forgotten, they’re like a lost language. They don’t spontaneously re-appear. Someone needs to teach them to the kids again. So  let’s teach them. (Let’s just make sure it’s not as painful as real language lessons.)

Meantime, by allowing kids to opt out a little later on, we’ve got the best of both worlds: Kids who want to go  off and play that game of hopscotch on their own still can, so we haven’t lost the “free” in “free time.” All that has been added is a new repertoire of games and maybe some skills at solving disputes.

I’m all for free play, as you know. But if what’s really happening is free-misery, it makes sense to reassess recess. — Lenore

"Should we fight or learn a game?" PHOTO: National Archives

55 Responses

  1. When I was a kid, my mom found book of games at the Goodwill or someplace and we’d spend all summer playing them. Different variations of tag, mother may I, that kind of stuff. Games my typical modern kids really haven’t played (shame on me, I know).

    I’ve thought I might start an ad hoc after-dinner games gathering for my kids and other kids in the neighborhood who might be into it and help them learn some of these games and get their chubby butts moving this summer. This post really inspires me to stop talking about it and start doing it!

  2. What ever happened to making up games yourself?
    Or playing without talking about it? Without rules laid out beforehand or worrying about doing it right?

  3. Seriously?

    When I was in elementary school, the teachers were responsible for recess. They’d get wiffleball or kickball games going, they’d get kids to play tag, or whatever.

    They need to hire someone for that? Huh?

  4. Really ridiculous. I live near Newark, and they have bigger things to worry . The highest real estate taxes (which is how school is financed in NJ) in the nation, and this is what they spend my money on.

  5. For me, recess was an escape from the stress of doing what others wanted all day long. I was an introvert and really just wanted to be left alone for a while, or maybe hang out with a few good friends. So this would not have appealed to me, but I could see the point of it on a part-time basis, like maybe the first 10 minutes 1-3 days a week.

  6. I am actually quite concerned about the lack of unstructured time in every aspect of kids’ lives these days. Their summer vacations are ever shorter, they hardly have time to finish all their homework before going to bed, and their schedules at school have been tightened to minimize “unproductive” time.

    Some of the most productive time I had when I was a kid was when I had absolutely nothing on the agenda, and absolutely no supervision of any kind. Actually, no other human beings for miles around (of course, this was a rural existence, not New Jersey).

    I worry about a society in which kids aren’t allowed to become bored – and daydream. And I don’t really believe that making the organized activities optional – forcing a kid to DECLARE that they PREFER to sit by themselves in a quiet corner of the playground – is much of an improvement.

  7. It was grown-ups who taught me “Red Rover” and “Mother May I” and “Simon Says” and “Duck Duck Goose.” I learned “Sardines” out of a young adult book. I think a recess coach sounds like a good idea as long as their role is positive and encouraging, not negative and suppressive.

  8. We had people who were hired for recess duty at my elementary school. They simply made sure that no one was being hurt, ill treated, or otherwise. If we were bored and couldn’t think of what to do, they’d help us come up with something. And it was the teachers’ planning time. Even teachers need daily breaks, despite what you think of their cycle or summer breaks.

    There is something to be said for being able to have a bad day and just sit at the edge of the playground sulking, but I don’t agree with the previous poster when he says “forcing a kid to declare that they prefer to sit by themselves in a quiet corner of the playground–(isn’t) much of an improvement.

    Isn’t part of what free range is about is helping kids find their independence? So then, what’s so harsh about teaching them to assert their independence?

    I don’t think that the games should be mandatory because it does take the free time out of recess. But I think if they gathered together the kids who wanted to learn a new game (and there will always be those), then some of those hanging out on the sidelines might just decide it looks like fun.

  9. I think the teachers organized these games when I went to school, or maybe volunteer parent / recess monitors did. I don’t see why you need a separate paid employee for this sort of thing. And, yeah, participation in the organized recess games was I think optional (although we played a lot of these games in P.E. and that of course was not optional). Recess should be recess — free time to choose to burn off steam with whom you want the way you want. If you want to get in on the orgnaized games, fine; if you don’t, fine. Put P.E. is where most of those organized games were played. They should really have P.E. 5 times a week.

  10. Bad idea aside, I think it’s a horrible idea to hire somebody to do this when class sizes are getting larger, teachers are getting laid off, etc… I loved recess when I was a kid, because we used that as our creative time. We made up games, stories, whatever. I would’ve hated this, and I think it’s just one more way to stifle kid’s creativity.

  11. I keep going back and forth on this with my kid’s teachers. I have a quirky kid. He doesn’t like organized sports. He likes pretend play, still at age 9. He (and his few but close friends) like to imagine wars and invasions, create ‘forts’ and ‘bases’ and things like that. His teachers seem to think that this is a problem – that he is getting into trouble with bullies and such because he lacks social skills. But why should he have to change his preferred leisure time activities to suit them? If he and his friends are having fun, then tell the BULLIES to knock it off, rather than telling the other kids to change. Or maybe tell the bullies to try something other than shooting baskets for a change. Why are the outliers always the ones pressured to change?

  12. I remember in 2nd grade we had a HUGE pile of snow on the blacktop portion of our playground (they had plowed the blacktop and just left the pile there). Our Principle, yes the Principle!, came out at recesses for a few days and helped us dig tunnels and make a fort out of the snow pile. It was a blast! If an adult wants to help the kids learn a few games at recess, I think that is a great idea. Just as long as the kids aren’t forced to do it.

  13. I don’t know where this idea that kids need to be shown how to play playground games comes from. My kids go to public school in New Jersey – my 10 year old daughter plays foursquare most days now, but when she was younger used to play all sorts of imaginative games involving most of the class running all over the playground and continuing on one thread for weeks. They would have been very annoyed if someone tried to organize their games.

  14. I think having an adult willing to teach the games is a good idea. But don’t most schools have yard duties or someone who could do it already? Not sure there’s a need to hire a recess coach.

    And definitely wouldn’t suggest forcing kids into the games, doubly so if they’re behaving well otherwise. My kids don’t have to be sentimental about all the games I’m sentimental about, so long as they’re having fun and building good memories.

  15. Ayyyyy! Like the song says – “Teachers leave those kids alone!” It’s recess and it’s 15 minutes. Unless someone is getting bullied or hurt just let them be. Let kids teach other kids how to play games. I don’t remember an adult teaching us how to play Freeze Tag, Hide n Seek, Dodge Ball or Kick the Can. Besides most kids want some time away from adults where they can run around, let off some steam, and pick their nose without any interference.

  16. sonya,
    I have taught my students games from my childhood. I have a large immigrant population. I actually had kids make a book of different playground games and jump rope rhymes. They were amazed I didn’t censor the Lizzy Borden Rhyme.

  17. Thank goodness this article has started an important conversation around the role of play and schools. We all want our children to have the joy of playing, and the benefits of learning that come with it. While this article was relatively representative, we want to assure you that Playworks does NOT force kids into games nor do we have an inflexible, structured recess that sucks the fun out of it. In fact, it’s just the opposite. We’re in 170 schools around the country, and in about 170 of them the coach is a rock star on the playground.

    Our objective is to get the games going — sort of like the “big kids” on the playground did. THEN it’s up to the kids to run the games, to be sure that the play is safe, healthy and includes everyone who wants to play. There is nothing more sad than a playground rimmed with children who want to be in the game but are unable to participate because of bullying, exclusion and other things that keep them out of the action. I think everyone here can relate to that.

    Until you’ve really spent time on an urban playground, it is hard to imagine that kids don’t necessarily know how to play. In too many of the schools we serve, though, school is the only opportunity due to gangs, drugs, violence and other factors that affect youth.

    As far as the Playworks program, please note it is a full-time program that provides before/after school programs, class game times, youth leadership, recess and sports leagues – which many children would otherwise be unable to participate in due to lack of resources (transportation, financial).

    We WANT kids to run the playground, to be involved and to get active. Our job is done when we’re on the sidelines listening to the laughter.

    Please check out our website http://www.playworks.org to learn more. Also, please watch the Power of Play video to see how we do it. We’re happy to be part of this conversation. All kids should play.

  18. I read the NT Times article. It seems to me that the school that inspired the story was concerned primarily about disciplinary issues at recess–not that the kids had to be instructed in how to play.

    I don’t see anything wrong with a teacher/coach/parent organizing games and such at recess as long as kids aren’t forced into participation. I, too, feel that kids should have at least a little time each day to ‘do nothing’.

    There’s really two issues at play (no pun intended) here.

    One concerns issues that come up when large numbers of kids–often of the same, or almost the same, age–are allowed to run around together for 20 minutes. Issues with safety, discipline, kids getting hurt come up, as they have for generations.

    The other issue concerns play. I’m a believer in play, and went to real efforts to preserve time and opportunity for my kids to engage in unstructured play. It’s creative, healthy, healing, and stimulating. Also develops all kinds of social, language, and problem-solving skills. It’s been said before, but often needs restating, that play is the work of childhood.

    I don’t think that having ‘recess coaches’ necessarily means that kids need instruction in how to play. My experience with kids is that kids will engage in play–naturally, and without instruction (although having the opportunity to see play modeled will speed up the process)–when they are given the time, space, and opportunity to engage in play.

    Throwing scores of kids outside onto asphalt for 10-20 minutes after a long, intense morning of instruction is not the most conducive environment for play. Most likely, what you’ll see is a lot of kids blowing off steam by engaging in loud and wild behavior, and some kids recharging by hanging about on the sidelines. Some, but far from all, can make the quick transition from student into creative and/or cooperative play, and will ‘play nicely’ for the recess period.

    Experienced teachers, parents, camp counselors, and day care workers know that play can be subtly encouraged by a number of tried and true factors. One is time–kids often need a bit of time to transition into play (just like adults need time to transition from the office to home).

    Another is an environment that facilitates play. Asphalt isn’t horrible (kids will play in any and all conditions if nothing else is present), but some grass, some sand, large open areas mixed with smaller less public areas, a few simple ‘supplies’ (balls, chalk, jump robes) all induce play.

    Another often overlooked factor is group size and composition. Children’s play is often more relaxed and creative in smaller groups of mixed ages and genders. This is something I observed for years watching my own kids play. Invariably, play sessions were less competitive and more creative in small, mixed groups–something akin to what neighborhoods can produce when kids are allowed out and about.

    This is almost the exact opposite of what large, public schools produce in their large groups of same, or closely, aged classes of kids.

  19. @Cindy Wilson (Playworks.org)–sounds like an excellent program!

  20. Hmm… In this time of budget cuts at the vast majority of schools around the country, I wonder what else could be saved in the curricula if 170 schools deleted the “Playworks” line from their budget entirely… Fortunately, they post a list of their clients on their web site, so hey guys, let’s get writing to superintendents, and especially local newspapers. I strongly suspect that in many communities the local citizens have never heard of this program and will happily pressure their school boards to drop it. Frankly, to me it sounds like a company founded by a few people who spent a bit too much time in graduate-level education courses at Berkeley. Honestly, in our district we are to stage of cutting critical teaching and positions and dropping demonstrably valuable programs in the arts and other traditionally-offered electives. We would love to have something as superfluous as “Playworks” to cut.

    I am sure that this isn’t the reaction that Cindy was looking for with her guest post here, but she shows her hand pretty blatantly. The mission of school in general is education, not social engineering or, frankly – character building. And recess needs to be recess – a break from school and adult intervention, real life, a time for kids to blow off steam – each in their own way – without unnecessary guidance or rules. NOT an opportunity for more handholding.

    Which is why this line from Cindy – in her role as paid press contact for Playworks – and the little bit I read about their program on their web site – creeps me out more than a bit. It worries me any time when people are so whacked out on their own philosophy that thay state as givens something that is far from universally accepted, like Cindy’s statement “THEN it’s up to the kids to run the games, to be sure that the play is safe, healthy and includes everyone who wants to play.”

    Personally, I don’t subscribe to the last bit in the least. If the kids ARE inclined to organize a game at recess, why should it necessarily include everyone? Will Cindy and her colleagues at Playworks be there to make sure that everyone is asked to the prom? Will she be there when a pickup ball game is organized at their office twenty years from now, to guarantee that everyone is invited to participate?

    The kids might as well start sorting this stuff out for themselves now…

  21. This district is the next over from mine in NJ. It’s inner-city and probably needs all the help it can get. There is mention of bodily injury in the article. That said, I don’t think the person monitoring the kids on the playground should FORCE them to be involved in the games she organizes. It should be optional and she should be monitoring to be sure no one is hurt in the games the kids organize for themselves.

    I say this because, only a few weeks ago, my 11-year-old son was kicked in the “private parts” over a 4-square game at recess! And this is not the first “altercation” he’s been in over this game, this year. Prior to this, no history of altercations of any kind for my kid.

    Kids this age are a mess and are getting bigger and stronger and yet still seem to be unable to control their impulses. Apparently, frustration levels run very high and misunderstandings are frequent as the rules of the game change while in play, at the whim of whoever the “alpha” child is at the time. And kids get kicked in the nuts. So the alternative would be to ban the game? I’d rather somebody just keep a watchful eye and encourage good sportsmanship!

  22. The only thing a teacher should be doing on the playground at recess is keeping the peace.

    If they want someone to teach a game, then fine – have someone go out and let the kids know that if they meet up at this spot, they’ll learn a game. It shouldn’t be mandatory, it shouldn’t be punishment.

    We are creating little machines by taking away all that makes human beings human. Did you know that in Colorado there was an incident where a guy who saved a woman from getting hit by a car was arrested and fined for endangering himself? No joke.

    Where does it stop… or perhaps the more pressing question is… where does it begin???

  23. I could see if the school had a real problem with inappropriate behavior at recess that bringing in something like this could be good if it were temporary. I the kids just don’t seem to know how to play together then this could help set up patterns of behavior that could take over from the inappropriate behavior they had been having.

    But going to school for a full day and having no time whatsoever that wasn’t scheduled sounds like a sure fire way to burn out some kids. I think I would have hated it. When do you get to chat to your friends? I got engaged about 4 times in elementary school – how does the recess coach make that happen!🙂

  24. My daughter’s school has a new playground that I’ve been meaning to post about all year. Before building it they interviewed the kids about what they wanted at recess, and found that for many of the children, a protected space away from adult eyes was important to them. So they incorporated that into the new design.

    I was shocked at first that my kid goes to a school where they deliberately created space for the kids to play that adults can’t see into or easily supervise. But also delighted. The kids have been using the playground all year and loving it.

    I get that today’s kids have been so oversupervised and sedentary that a lot of them don’t know how to play nice with each other. But I’m not sure that more supervision and structured play is the answer.

  25. If we decide to re-teach the old games, we should make sure we really remember them. Streetplay.com has many of the old games and their rules (which can be altered to fit your needs) at http://www.streetplay.com/thegames/. While you’re there, check out the whole site. Kewl.

  26. I dont know, I still agree with the idea of letting the kids just be kids, I see nothing wrong with having a “cool” teacher (meaning one of the recess duty teachers designated to the job that can relate) out there teaching the kids the backyard games we grew up with because I see your point of the kids not knowing them (and once they get to know them, they’ll love ’em as much as we did!) but I hate the idea of mandating ANYTHING at recess. It’s recess! If you put the RIGHT teacher on the job, they will come!

  27. Let’s hear it for the home schoolers, yeah!
    All kidding aside, I feel very sad for these kids. Maybe the discipline problems, as one poster pointed out, were so bad the school felt this structured time was necessary, but to force kids to participate if they want to have a break seems onerous.

    I remember playing at recess in 6th grade the year after the movie Grease came out in theaters, and we sang the songs from the movie and played out some of the scenes during recess. We had such a great time. We’d also twirl around on the merry-go-round and sing the lyrics to our favorite commercials. It beat playing organized games.

    I hated PE, and it would have been horrible to have PE twice a day (this really is what it seems they’ve done by implementing this program). Recess was sacrosanct to us. We figured we should get a break just like the adults did.

    I worry that other schools with fewer disciplinary problems will see this program and think, “Hey, what a great idea,” and copy it, turning it into a national trend. So, again I say, “Let’s hear it for the home schoolers.”

  28. I just read the comments and wanted to respond to BMS. My oldest son is just like that. He is now 17yro and the nicest kid ever and he was exactly as you described at 9yro (and in some ways, still is!) and what a great kid to have so just another reason to let kids be kids! BTW, My third child is that little sports nut, shooting baskets and I love him too! (NOT a bully though, I make sure of that!!)

  29. @David and others. I’m a parent who has a child in a school with the PlayWorks program and it works. The school is high poverty level and the kids thrive with some direction during recess and lunch. With underlying themes of teaching them how to play together, work together and resolve conflict together – it is beneficial to the children. Just outright suggesting the removal of a successful program like this, because you don’t see the value in it, is just the same as people who don’t see the value in art and/or music in schools.

    Part of the bigger issue IMHO is that because kids have lost good outdoor unstructured time in an area like mine, most of their unstructured time seems to be indoors, often with tv/computers/video games, they actually need a little bit of structure at school because they are totally lost on how to behave with a group of other kids.

    I’ve had to physically restrain a 5th grader, who was fighting with another kid, yelling at him that he was going to kill him – this was all over some bumping/jumping in a morning basketball game. I love knowing that during the day there will be an adult watching the kids, and teaching them some alternative ways to handle themselves when disputes come up. As someone mentioned the idea of games as language is really true too, a lot of these kids are learning great games like 4-square, dodge ball, etc. if they weren’t taught the kids would all be playing Pokemon cards and Bakugan all recess.

    For the folks that don’t think this is a good idea, I highly recommend you go volunteer and spend some time at an urban elementary school with at least 30+% poverty level. Then come back and tell me that this isn’t a good idea after seeing it with your own eyes. I’ve been so happy with Playworks concept and execution that I became a monthly donor to their program.

    thx
    Scott

  30. NO, NO, NO!! Unless kids need to be reminded of safety concerns, they should have that 15-20 minutes of FREE TIME. They need that time to decide for themselves what they will do before they return to the classroom to have someone ELSE tell them what they will do for the rest of the day.

    They don’t have a lot of opportunity to be creative, and if they invent a game about forts and warriors, as long as they’re not using sticks as swords or sabers, and everyone agrees on the rules, GOOD DEAL. They’re not bored, and they’re not whining about “nothing to do.”

    Kids learn negotiation skills during free play. They decide the rules as a group, and if those rules will be changed. They learn what’s acceptable in a group and what’s not, all without an ADULT telling them.

    And there are way too many kids who have not learned that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. That’s a very important lesson, and in a society where we always want our kids to come out on top, we’re not doing them any favors by not allowing them to win AND lose.

    As silly as it sounds, these are life skills that they will need as adults.

  31. […] the free-range queen herself, Lenore Skenazy, has weighed in on the side of coaching recess, saying, “I’m all for free play, as you know. But if what’s really happening is […]

  32. Let’s not go 0-60, here.
    School have to do risk management—-but they don’t have to take away risk. A person who offers recess ideas to children is not evil, and you can still talk to your friends and decide what to play.
    But, if the only play that some kids can come up with is throwing each other on the concrete…well, how long will recess survive under those conditions? This seems like a reasonable response from the school, and one that respects and wants to preserve recess (not a given as you know). And, it could be temporary and only a means of “resetting” the playground culture. I have found (as a gym teacher who supervises recess) that throwing a few new balls, cones or jump ropes into the yard (chalk maybe) transforms recess time more than any instruction I could provide. In addition the changes are child-led initiatives. And I can eat my sandwich.
    Also, recess isn’t always 15 minutes. At our school it is an hour and a half each day—-even in freezing weather—-YEA!!!

  33. I think the coaches/monitors are a good idea if they are lettting the kids make up their own games. The real problem is that kids do not get enough time for recess. At my local school, elementary kids only get 45 minutes total for recess and in the winter it gets dark around the time the bus drops them at home. “Lifers in Leavenworth get more time in the exercize yard.” Steve Rushin, Sports Illustrated, December 4, 2006

    http://commongood.org/f-schoolactivities.html

    I also have an issue with concrete and grass playgrounds. This inspires competitive play instead of creative play. I suppose it is too much money and trouble for a school to give children time to plant a garden or bamboo grove. We wouldn’t want to take away from the grass fertilizer, watering and mowing businesses.

  34. Question how many of the people posting on this website come in and ever help with recess? I mean on a weekly basis. The problems that arise from recess most of the time are that most kids can come up with games and ideas to play and get along or “work things out” in their own way perfectly fine but for that small group of children that can not and prefer not too but to go from group to group causing nothing but problems daily need some more structure due to their immaturity. A lot of parents will say oh it is kids being kids, ok these are the same kids that do not listen in class or like to clown around, to put simply if parents taught their children to listen the first time and to be respectful most of this would not happen in the classroom or out at recess. And I have a child that has issues from time to time, I also have a child that is very obedient. I get it that children are all different, but I also do recess everyday school day with K-6 graders and I can promise you it is the same children everyday causing the same problems. OBEDIENCE the FIRST TIME.

  35. One of my friends is a former teacher. She said that games like tag had to be banned from recess simply because kids these days are not able to negotiate or resolve conflict for themselves anymore. Games like tag created ALL sorts of issues because the kids were constantly running to the teachers for help resolving conflict. Finally, they just banned the games all together.

    Me? I think this is a direct result of helicopter parenting and not allowing our children to just hang out together. How sad is that??!!

    As such, I try very hard to not get involved in my kid’s playing together. And yes, this means going against my instinct. Say, for example, when I see that a boy has hopped onto a bike my son just finished “prepping” for riding. My son fumbled trying to figure out the situation – why the boy thought he could just hop on, when my son was right there and obviously, getting ready to ride. . And guess what? I let my kid fumble. And no, I did not even “coach” or talk to him about it later.

    Life is hard, kid. Better get used to it! 😉

  36. Hi all- I work in “obesity prevention” and have had the opportunity to see the program in action in Boston. I am all for free play, but what I see with the nearly 4000 students I interact with is that A- they don’t know the games, B- they spend precious recess time arguing over how to play (day after day after day- yes, they may be learning negotiating skills, but at the cost of everything else) and C- the broad majority will opt to sit and do nothing because of the above- which is concerning when children seem to have so little time to be active and health issues have become such a concern.

    What I saw with Playworks was a bunch of children engaging in well deserved physical activity in a broad range of games (solo, paired, group) OR having the option of not doing any of them. They were enthusiastic, engaged and HAPPY for the 20 minutes they had. They were BY NO MEANS FORCED and were not stigmatized by their option to do quieter play. And the Coach WAS a rock star (great guy too).

    I investigated the cost of the program- it would cost the taxpayers in my medium sized district 46 cents for the year…a lousy 46 cents…for the WHOLE year. Not exactly a killer drain.

    David- I have worked in partnership with a school district- want to cut costs? Take a look at busing- certainly a “free range issue” in many districts! Are kids being allowed to walk to school when possible? Transportation is a killer budget expense- and I have seen, many times, completely unnecessary busing (ie; safe neighborhood, fairly short distance, no disability issues, etc).

    Just a thought though.

  37. Does anyone else have the feeling that there is something of an organized attempt – from outside the group of normal participants in this forum – to sway the opinion on this particular thread? I am not ready to declare shenanigans, I guess, but something smells funny.

    Scott – I see two big differences between cutting, say, band, versus cutting Playworks, which you seem to equate:

    1) band programs have been a part of the curriculum for many decades, and their worth has been demonstrated generation after generation. The Playworks concept is very much new and therefore inherently suspect. For those of us who have been around for a while, education seems to be one area in which almost all of the great “new” ideas seem to lose their popularity eventually. New math? Open classroom design anyone? Whole language?

    2) I have never heard anyone suggest that band is actually a NEGATIVE activity. In my view, any organization of the free, unstructured time which is already very dangerously limited, is indeed a negative thing, at least for most students. And we shouldn’t restructure recess for everyone, based on the problems of a few conflictive students.

  38. Pam – Certainly, we can agree on the busing issue. It is an issue that I have personally brought up in our local community, but it has fallen on deaf ears.

    We could save huge amounts by restructuring the district to allow and encourage more walking and biking to school. But there is little constituency for that idea, since the more politically-liberal leaders who would otherwise probably appreciate evironmental and health benefits of such a move are horrified by the thought of a return to neighborhood schools, which would be, and I quote our superintendent in response to a forum question I posed, an unaceptable “step backward in terms of providing balance in each school”. So, we continue with the insanely gerrymandered school zones (they don’t even bother to make the zones nominally contiguous any more) and pay to have kids who live a 5-minute walk from one school ride a bus for an hour to reach a school another 10 miles away.

  39. Here’s an idea. If the problem is that the kids don’t know how to play games, why not teach them in gym class and encourage them to replicate them on the playground?

    Our elementary school did away with morning recess, the time before it was time to line up and go in. Why? Because the teachers who had the duty were standing around talking to each other drinking their coffee and not paying attention to the kids. So when one of the kids went somewhere they weren’t supposed to guess what happened? Yup, cancelled recess for every one.

    David – it would not surprise me if the Playworks people were encouraged to log on.

  40. Hold on there with the paranoid thinking! 🙂 I am in no way related to Playworks (except, as I said, for visiting a program site and looking into bringin it to my district).

    What I AM, is a daily reader of the blog who hapens to have a slow work day. A rare slow work day. Lenore has given me some wonderful tools that I use to promote outdoor play time and walking to school- free range and obesity prevention have some similar goals!

    (It should go without saying that I also have 2 free range children here in suburban PA…and the blog helps give me a much needed reality check from time to time- just as the book did!)

  41. I don’t know why everything has to be all or nothing. What is wrong with providing a program where kids who want to, and don’t know how to, can learn to play games, and kids who don’t, don’t have to, and kids who are getting picked on or abused or picking on or abusing other kids can be dealt with appropriately? Why do some people see every opportunity as a mandate? Or vice versa, think that if something is not mandated, there’s no opportunity for it? Why can’t you have a setup where there are adults on the playground to be adults, and use their own discretion as to whether it might be a good idea today to get the willing kids together to play a game, and tomorrow, when everybody’s content doing their thing, to let them do it?

  42. pentamom….you rock.

  43. I’ve not made it through all the comments, so perhaps someone already said this…

    Lenore, you describe a scene in which a school employee teaches kids how to play physical games, during a fixed period of time in school, with mandatory attendance (at least for a period of time). In what way is this different from gym class? Wouldn’t this just be turning recess time into another structured gym period? I’m not sure I see a distinction. I see nothing much wrong with the idea of an outdoor gym class that focuses on playground-style games. And it does address the need of kids to have some physical run-around time during the school day. But recess is also a time for kids to get a break from being in class, to interact with each other on their own terms, in activities that appeal to each individual in a group of whatever size is appealing to each, and gym class does not address that need at all.

  44. I think it’s very hard for people to know what school is TRULY like for inner-city children, unless that’s where you live/work/teach.

    I taught in urban settings and have been in schools where the principal never came to the second floor because of a gimpy leg, recess was held in the cafeteria because it was too dangerous to be outside, rats lurked in hallways, there were bullet holes in the front door, there weren’t enough texts or chairs for everyone and most kids were either checked out or very, very angry.

    We simply cannot compare the lives of suburban kids–with their endless OPPORTUNITIES–with that of inner-city kids when we talk about what children need. Yes, all children need unstructured play. But what they need first is to know that their community, their school, cares about them. A district that puts money in their budget for a program that teaches children–all children, not just gifted atheletes–how and what to play OUTSIDE, makes my heart glad!

  45. […] which you can find reported on here in the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun, and various other spots (proving, as one blogger said, that a certain PR guru needs a […]

  46. @ David…

    I’ve posted here before and I’m not some kind of sockpuppet or shill. My daughter goes to a school that’s had a playworks coach. And while I don’t think of my school as low income or inner city, it is very diverse, with over 20 home languages represented and lots of kids in ESL.

    Just to clarify:

    1. Parents were completely informed about this nonprofit organization’s participation in recess and we had access to information about the program. While I think it’s amusing to see a Playworks person chime in here, they have a right to correct what they see as misconceptions about what they do on a public forum.

    2. My daughter plays detailed imagination-based games with her friends each day at recess (the current game is that they are all in spy club or something) that don’t involve adults — I’m not sure adults are sharp enough to remember all their elaborate rules.

    3. She also got to be a playworks student coach for a bit and described it as great fun. She got to help include kids in various games (some of whom, remember, are just learning English) and mediate disputes.

    4. Mind your own business. Real solutions to real problems are always ground-up and at the local level. You are perfectly welcome to protest your own local school’s allocation of funds, but leave mine alone.

    I think my daughter’s school is doing an excellent job and providing a diverse, creative, and fun learning environment. My concerns are going to be different than yours and the solutions are going to be different as well.

  47. Organized game play at recess…..sounds more like PE. At least that’s the games we played at times in PE. Is this an attempt to replace the PE class the schools probably already cut? Structured time is still not recess

  48. @David – my kids go to a school that is in a high income neighborhood, but I’ve had experiences in low income schools. I think that IF you don’t like Playworks in YOUR district, YOU should campaign against it. I am quite sure that it is a valuable resource in many districts, and those parents should decide.

    In other words, I think that this forum is perfect for discussing the nature, benefits and concerns of different programs, but I find distasteful if we start to advocate against programs with which we’ve had no direct experience.

    I do not think that because a program is new it is inherently suspect. I think that the proof is in the pudding and one want to learn more about it one should go see it first hand.

    I appreciate the opinions expressed here, and especially value those who have had direct experience. David – as a skeptic, I would especially value your opinion after you’ve seen a recess with a Playworks coach.

  49. Our school has also gone to teaching the games during PE class which has helped greatly, first statement from the recess person (me) is what have you been taught, second is if you do not like it you have the option of not playing. I have also struggled with the ones that are left out, since we are a small private religious school we believe and stress the fact that it is better to have many friends at school because we have the next how many years together. And for the ones that do not wish to participate in this I also state that when they are left out then please do not be upset. Quite honestly I find this aspect of my job the most difficult because of hurt feelings and when do you step in outside of the obvious safety issues.

  50. My daughter’s afterschool program has teenage “counselors” who serve essentially the same purpose. They hand out playground equipment, help start games for those who are interested, and supervise very loosely – they don’t intervene when kids are working out games and rules amongst themselves, but they do pull apart kids who are beating the tar out of each other. Without exception, they’re looked upon as ultra-cool big brothers and sisters – the boys especially swarm all over the male counselors – and the kids love having them around. I don’t see a problem with recess coaches if they take that role, though I certainly would if they were forcing kids to participate or not letting them do activities of their own choosing.

  51. Chiming in and I work for Playworks. I’m a reader of many blogs and lover of raising free range kids. I commend all those who are providing as many opportunities for free and unsupervised play. The world needs kids to be able to learn and take care of things themselves.

    We support recess in under-resourced communities who need the help. We do it by teaching games to kids in classes, usually biweekly, then letting kids opt in or out of those games at recess. We also have older students lead games at recess. I see our efforts transform the attitude of playgrounds from one of fighting and tears to one of smiles and confident kids.

  52. […] which you can find reported on here in the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun, and various other spots (proving, as one blogger said, that a certain PR guru needs a […]

  53. Thank you. Your post offers an interesting point of view on the subject matter. Thanks for sharing.

  54. I do not think that because a program is new it is inherently suspect. I think that the proof is in the pudding and one want to learn more about it one should go see it first hand.

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