98. Recess

Ask a child, “What’s your favorite subject in school?”, and you’re likely to get an answer that may be disconcerting: “Recess.” Teachers take pride in preparing materials, activities, and experiences that are exciting, and yet the average child seems to prefer that one part of the day that was not planned by teachers. Recess is not a “subject.” It’s not math, science, or social studies. Those “subjects” and others can be part of recess, but most children are protective of their break, so integration of teacher-planned curriculum into recess is best done subtly. Parents may wonder why they pay tax dollars so that their children can do what they take such pleasure in not doing.
Not all children like recess all the time. For some children who have trouble making and keeping friends, recess can be a painful reminder of the problem. It can resemble the kind of situation depicted in “Lord of the Flies.” With two adults, approximately one hundred children, and a large area, children who want to be in charge can have more power than they do in class. The teachers are the ultimate authorities, but they can’t be everywhere at once.
But it’s a short time, and the teacher is never far away. Children build their recess societies, and face the various social issues, but they know that they are ultimately safe from the tyranny of the charismatic despot, or the mob; the grown-ups are nearby. The grown-ups won’t let them be excluded or tormented. It’s not a fail-safe system, but it usually works. When it doesn’t work, there are more grown-ups at home, and sometimes they get involved.
I once had an education professor who defined “curriculum” as “everything that happens at school.” I like that definition. Since recess happens at school, it is part of curriculum. Teachers are responsible for the learning that goes on during recess, and although, as I said, they can’t
be everywhere, they can notice when and where adult intervention seems to be most needed, and they can direct the learning that happens during this unstructured time.
As a teacher, I must admit that although I rarely chose to be outside during recess, I enjoyed recess more than I thought. It was a time to get to know the children, and getting to know them was the “subject” I liked most.

Comments are closed.