Thursday, August 26, 2010

Is doing away with recess dumbing down our children?

A Rhode Island school district is doing away with recess this year. The district is taking away the 10-15 minutes before or after lunch during which students were formerly allowed time for free play.

Reports claim that the East Providence Elementary School will teach its teachers to recognize the need for stress-release and will facilitate in-class breaks, but will this in-class downtime replace the benefits of recess? Regardless, should school districts have the ability to remove children’s opportunity to play?

As an early childhood educator, I emphatically disagree with any district cutting recess. Not only do children need breaks (adults need them too – are you reading this post from work?), but children learn best through play. As the famous Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood said, “Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.” With this in mind, I would advocate for the introduction of in-class breaks in addition to recess. In short, taking away recess (and other opportunities for free play) will lead to the dumbing down of our nation's children.

In addition to simply needing time to play, recess allows children to make much-needed social connections with their peers. Though students need be respectful of all children in their classrooms, true friendships develop during lunch breaks, recess, and after-school activities. Encouraging our children to develop social skills is critical to their success later in life; taking away recess limits children’s ability to develop those skills.

The world is becoming a scary place, where recess is being removed, politicians are considering abolishing summer vacation in favor of year-round school, and children are pushed into structured activity at every turn. When are kids allowed to be kids? If all of their time is scheduled and regimented, when will children invent their own games, write their own songs, and draw in the dirt? When will they build tree forts, hold tea parties for their dolls, and host impromptu talent shows with their friends? Scheduling every moment of a child’s day takes away the very meaning of what it means to be a child.

TIME Magazine's article The Case Against Summer Vacation outlines an argument for year-round school that emphasizes the "summer slide" -- the notion that children "slide backward" after not learning all summer. While the summer slide is a real phenomenon for many children, the solution isn't to have kids in school all year, but rather to offer opportunities to kids in the summer. Making camp and summer programs affordable and accessible to all children would prevent a loss of knowledge, while engaging children in things in which they are truly interested. It would also allow children to play -- a vitally important part of the learning process that is more and more often being pushed aside in favor of longer school days and more "academics." The same goes for recess; allowing children to make their own choices will ultimately enrich them further than teacher-mandated classroom breaks.

Ultimately, we need to let kids be kids, while also providing them solid opportunities for learning, growth, and development. Enriching the school day by making it more interesting (incorporating the arts, for example) will teach children valuable skills without overwhelming them. It's worth repeating that allowing children to learn through play is not only sensible, but absolutely necessary. Without the opportunity to play our children will, in fact, be less independent and creative than if they were simply given the opportunity to explore the world through play.

No recess? No, thank you.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dust yourself off and try again...

Not surprisingly, I fell off the health-kick wagon.

In a nutshell, I went through some seriously stressful things at work and at home and decided that I had bigger things to worry about than getting my butt out of bed early every morning. That, coupled with the fact that this was one of the hottest summers I can remember, didn't do much for my new exercise kick. I'm sorry to say that I schlumped around for much of the summer. I didn't just give up on being healthy over the summer, I gave up a lot of things (like writing for Inner Thoughts & Outbursts... sorry about that), and am just now starting to get in the groove of things again.

Some of the other healthy habits stuck, though. I'm hardly drinking any soda (only at the occasional weekend party) and I only have a glass of wine on the weekends (and not many weekends at that). I've also been able to give up table salt on most everything (except eggs... I love salty eggs). Last weekend I even went on a mini-vacation and spent the weekend riding a hydrobike, swimming laps before breakfast, and biking.

I'm also learning (perhaps confirming is more accurate) that I don't like feeling like I have to do something. Maybe my morning walks felt like torture because they were an obligation. I've been trying to do other things instead, like walk whenever I need to run errands, take the stairs whenever there's an option to do so, and other similar things. I'm trying to make exercise more fun and purposeful than just dragging by butt around town in the morning.

I even bought a bicycle.

Yes, folks, a bicycle. I haven't owned a bicycle since the sixth grade. Up until last summer when I spent the weekend at a mountain resort, I hadn't even ridden a bicycle in years. So, I went out and bought a bike. It's pretty snazzy. I even bought a basket for it. (That's a shot of the bike, at right.)

So far, I'm not a very good cyclist. I'm slow and out of shape, and small boys fly past me on BMX bikes that leave me in the dust. That being said, riding a bike is immensely more fun than aimlessly wandering to nowhere, and even though I feel out of shape while I ride my bike, I feel like I'm getting in shape while I ride it. I haven't been riding on a schedule or anything, but now that the weather is cooler I'm taking the bike out more often and hoping to ride all through the fall.

So, recap: I want to get back on track with my HEALTH plan. It's time to restart the process of being Healthy in my Eating, Actions, Language, Thoughts, and Heart. I'm thinking of this post as the next step toward healthy Language and Thoughts. I've always thought that it's okay to fall off the wagon, so long as you back on it again.