Putting play in play

"A chance to be the monkey on the bars before committing the adult version of it."

By Jim Dees

A Jan. 30 Oxford Citizen story by Errol Castens reported that many students in the Oxford School District no longer have recess.<>

One parent was quoted as saying, “There’s basically just no recess for this age group, [grades 5 through 8]. The kids, even when they get to school, aren’t allowed to talk – they have to sit – at least at our school.

“Free time at even younger grades is being taken away to complete assignments and do work.”

I don’t have children in school - or anywhere else - but I am familiar with play and child-like behavior, I’ve exhibited both recently. While school isn’t a social hour it seems a little harsh to herd kids around like mute cattle. Are we raising citizens or inmates? Even murder trials have recess. Taking a break is as old as daydreaming. All work and no play makes Jack an online sociopath.

I’m sure educators who believe in little or no recess and a ban on talking have studied school behavior and believe they know best. (One imagines for teachers there are times when the ‘no talking’ edict is a Godsend.). But studies also show the importance of recess. A chance to be a monkey on the bars before committing the adult version of it.

According to Castens’s story, a group of concerned parents addressed last week’s meeting of the Oxford School Board to ask for recess for the 5-8 grades. One even quoted a National Public Radio story: ‘If you want a child to be attentive and stay on task, and also if you want them to encode the information you’re giving them in their memory, you’ve got to give them regular breaks.’ (That was always my problem in school, encoding information in my memory.) The board took in the group’s concerns. Board President Whitney Byars told them the board was open to discussion on the topic, and thanked them for coming.

“Sometimes I get discouraged,” the story quoted Byars, “because a lot of times we have a school board meeting, and there are about 10 of us in here.”

There’s a reason for that. I worked the school board beat as a cub reporter and I can tell you watching paint dry is the Super Bowl compared to a school board meeting. But it works: Oxford schools are continuously among the highest rated in the state and those board members are getting the job done. But back to recess- Lack of a fence at the school was also cited as a reason for no recess. Presumably the students might get a whiff of freedom – like being able to talk - and make a run for it. Or, John Q. Weirdo could stroll onto the playground unchecked. Armed guard towers might be a tough sell but what about drones equipped with Tasers?

The New York Times reports in some cities recess has been cut back to avoid injuries and to allow more time to improve test scores. Scholastic magazine theorizes “under No Child Left Behind districts were under pressure to show academic progress. Others eliminated recess because of concerns about safety, lack of supervision, and subpar playground equipment.” The Times reported one student complained that as punishment, her recess was revoked and she was forced to watch anti-bullying videos. Just who is the bully here?

I suppose times have changed since I was recess-loving-lad back in the Ozzie and Harriet days of yester-century. But kids haven’t changed that much. They still have buzzing energy that is either harnessed or will explode in unwanted ways. A child needs to run and, yes, fall down, and get back up and run even faster. Children, like adults, need to go crazy or it will drive them nuts.

Anything that gets our youth outside around trees and grass can only be helpful. It would be cool if they had to leave their phones inside. This locked in, sealed-tight generation will be running the country soon enough. I’d much prefer their frame of reference include a love of outdoors and burning off steam than that of an information-encoding zombie.

Childhood is fleeting enough. Let little persons enjoy these years of free rent and new clothes with some shred of abandon before the cruel reality of bill-paying adulthood puts the hammer down.

Ring that recess bell.

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