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.

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