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