Watching Recess Go to Pieces

The missing part
The missing part

"So," I ask casually at a school meeting, "Will the kids be getting recess back next year?"

"Please God, NO!" says one of the principals at my son's junior high, "We're very happy with no recess in 7th and 8th grades. The incidence of H.I.B. is LOW. Kids aren't getting into trouble. I'm not getting calls about kids being mean, about texting and even sexting. Also, we just started giving recess back to those grades on Fridays and that's when I get the most complaints. I am happy to report that we have informative, exciting and hands-on seminars that keep them busy and engaged. They are so busy, in fact, they don't need recess. Studies show...."

My mind wanders at this point because I know that she has dug up the studies that show cutting out recess keeps kids out of trouble, but I also know that my son's friends have called the seminars "B.S." and that new studies seemingly crop up daily on the advantages of recess: a sharper mind during class, better academic performance and physical fitness (One might argue that there is Gym, but freer play actually encourages more running around and gym may not be enough). Common sense (along with the research) tells me that kids need to take breaks just as adults do. They also need time to socialize. My 7th grader's biggest issue with today's "Recess Recession" (Numerous schools nationwide have reduced recess) is that he has no time to see his friends who are in other classes.

So, what is H.I.B., you might ask, and is it contracted through sexting? I'll credit my sister with that wisecrack, but the truth of the matter is that H.I.B. is the worst acronym to hit the modern school system. It sounds like it should be a disease. Parents look around uncomfortably to get affirmation on this thought. However, it is actually the abbreviation for Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying. "H.I.B.," I've heard school administrators say, "the biggest problem schools are committed to eradicating." It is also cited as the reasoning behind recess cuts.

I spoke with two seasoned teachers who extolled the virtues of no recess but in the same breath, agreed that in theory they were against it, that kids do need breaks to "come up for air." On the other hand, one professional told me that she feels the kids are so busy all day and since the schedule is jam-packed, "there just is no time!" There's so much to get done, is her mantra. Having attended a dual curriculum school that taught both religious and secular subjects as well as two languages, I wonder why there is "no time" for recess. We managed it quite well in our own busy days. We not only had 2 daily recesses most days, but were bilingual and proficient in theological studies as well as the (uncommon) core curriculum.

I discovered recently that today's dual curriculum religious private schools are also being hit by the recess recession. One friend with an eight year old found out that her son was only getting few minute breaks throughout the day and no recess at all on Thursdays. When she spoke with the principal, tuition was cited as reasoning, the claim being that parents had expressed they were spending money for their kids to learn rather than to run around and play. A year before, in that same school, my friend had sat down to a meeting about her son's educational needs. The importance of breaks throughout the day was discussed at this meeting and agreed upon by the administration. Now here she was facing a principal who seemed to have forgotten and was surprised by her concerns. The principal added: "Recess is not a good time for us because it is when all the accidents happen" and that it was "difficult to get the kids back into learning mode" after the break.

What began as a "pilot" in my own child's junior high, appears to have wings as far as the top administrators have acknowledged. I ask my son about the seminars that have replaced recess and his assessment (realize, this is subjective) is that an hour spent on robotics is no substitute for running around. He also informed me, and I verified, that for the next six weeks his Gym class will be Health class - so more learning, less moving, no recess except Friday. Furthermore, now that it's cold, Fridays are spent by most kids reading a book or talking indoors rather than getting exercise.

I faced some real bullies as a kid (I am old, so these were the prehistoric days when "anti-bullying" essentially didn't exist - again, my well-honed opinion) and torment of my own during recess time. However, I also got a chance to play jump rope with my friends...oh, and who could forget R.C.K. in first grade? I ran, caught and kissed with the best of them. So maybe I did once sit under a tree in the schoolyard and landed in dog poop. I can agree that was "trouble" for the teachers who had to help clean me up before I got shipped home, but I also had many recesses to roam the field outside my school and partake in treasure hunts, games of hide and seek, and kickball. There were days I thought recess would kill me, but remembering my peer Noah's face on the "dog day" is among the incidents that made me stronger. In fact, he talks about the unfortunate event today. I wish I could erase it from his memory, but I digress... Personally, I have so many other positive memories about recess to cherish, like trading Swatches, Smurfs and stickers, running laps or running to find my little sister and tell her the daily gossip.

I hear the Catch 22: Recess is the time when kids get into the most trouble, but it is also the time for children to socialize, make friends and learn how to actually get along so they can avoid trouble.

A friend without school-age kids was surprised by my recess tirade: "Whether 15 minutes to an hour, it gave us (students) an opportunity to release our energy and then re-energize. It enabled us to concentrate better in our next classes. This was also the time for socialization, helping to create those beginning bonds of friendship which is important for any kid."

You can Google many studies on recess. You will see that most attest to what my friend said above about boosting concentration and improving learning. You can also uncover research on how recess is unnecessary, and you will discover that the latter perspective opens the doors to debate and controversy. Fortunately, eradicating recess is still not the "popular" opinion. Unfortunately, it is gaining some momentum. As kids turn to couch potatoes in this Golden age of TV, and with the popularity of Netflix, iPods and iPads, we should be encouraging fresh air and exercise as much as we can. I really hate watching recess go to pieces.