Recess. According to Merriam/Webster: “A temporary withdrawal or cessation from the usual work or activity.”In some schools it does not exist any more. Some people just get 20 mins of chance to go outside in a 7 hour school day. Some get 45 mins. Ah, but recess can be more than limited by time…what is there for people to do outside at recess? What kind of physical setting is recess taking place in? Does it respect children’s needs to move fast, jump, climb and shout? Are there places to withdraw from the fray and do quieter things? Is there an approachable adult nearby to help if things get tough? Or is the adult overwhelmed by the intensity of the yard and an overabundance of young people enjoying outside moments of what is called freedom?
If the adult is stressed…just imagine how kids who are just developing and refining coping skills are feeling..
Often the materials made available, if any, are based on playing ball or jumprope, 4 square, handball…organized games. This is not enough.
After conforming (waiting, taking turns, following pre-formulated extrinsic rules) for several hours during classroom activities, now they are being extrinsically controlled and being asked to conform to outside school activities. Hey..people need to learn to take turns and work with others, no doubt. This is not what is being examined here. What needs a much closer look is how people’s lives are so organized, scheduled and constrained that there is little time for thinking, relaxing, feeling, imagining, and sorting through things. There is little time to process all the experiences. The learning.
Young people need long blocks of time …to build on the stories or details their original creative games and activities are made of. Made by them. Young people need dirt and sand and mud and bugs and trees, sticks and plants, and water. They deserve access to tools, pens and paper and scraps of fabric, cardboard, wood, scissors, shovels, blocks, art materials, string, ..all manner of things to add details to the stories and activities they conceptualize, construct and then begin to individually or collaboratively express-express what they know.
Extra enrichment classes, organized and scheduled after school activities like art,piano,soccer karate etc, are NOT what young people are lacking. They get organized enough all day at school. They need thinking time.
I have been visiting schools across the nation lately. I am planning to visit more soon. One of the things that places I visit often want to do is have me come during class time, or when there is an organized school activity…and I enjoy seeing the school putting theory into practice during lesson and work times very much. But my favorite time to come is during free time or recess because that is when we can truly see the ethos and mission of the school in action.
I want to see how outside or free time activities are set up. Are they an afterthought-not valued as much as classroom lesson time? What does the environment feel like, look like? Neat and tidy state of the art play structures and tidy green lawns are very nice, but if young people work there I want to see evidence and remnants of their work and their thinking. This is usually not tidy… the spilled paint… the gravity experiment gone amuck all over the ground… a shovel languishing near a partially dug hole…
leftover scatterings of art materials not quite immaculately put away…organized and accessible materials for creating as well as tidying up…and very large garbage cans full of the grime of exploration. (Small cute basket garbage cans are highly suspicious)
Recess. A chance to take a break from the usual work. The usual work is so often orchestrated in even the so called best places. If recess is a break from that, then the break from the usual cannot be more of the usual.
People need a chance to go outside. Outside the classroom doors… and outside the box.
“It demands that we embrace the humanity of every student—that we take their side. Easy enough to say,
excruciatingly difficult to enact in the daily lives of schools.”-Bill Ayers