August 17, 2010

Let Them Play

Marc Comtois

So now it's recess. Well, as a former high-energy boy, I'm not sure what I'd done if I had been forced to while away all the hours of the school day in a structured environment. Back in my day, we had a morning and afternoon recess (plus a lunch break!). The promise of those pending breaks are what got me through the hours spent in class. I knew that after math, I'd be back playing kickball or whatever else. And yeah, I'd have to go back into class, but the physical energy spent somehow helped to focus my young mind on the task at hand. Funny how that works.

But now we're told there just isn't enough time in the day to meet all of the requirements demanded by government and, implicitly, parents. So traditional recess of the free-form variety is being done away in favor of a more structured version. Just what our kids need: more structure in their already too-structured play time.

My wife, a member of our school's PTO who is at the school most days, has told me how she watches the kids at recess and that they have no clue how to play by themselves. For instance, soccer games quickly devolve into anything goes free-for-alls where the ball is usually carried (more like rugby). That's why there are programs in some schools that are actually teaching kids how to play. How sad. But at least these programs are aimed at giving the tools and ability to play on their own. A shorter, more structured "recess" will do just the opposite.

The problem is that we've raised--and continue to raise--a generation that thinks it needs adult supervision to play a game. Self-organizing doesn't happen. Kids are over-scheduled in their free time, whether it be dance or sports or karate or whatever. Too often, instead of fostering an interest, these organized forms of recreation end up being the only kind that kids get. Recess is one of the last places where they can just do what kids are supposed to do: play.

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"But now we're told there just isn't enough time in the day to meet all of the requirements"

Ohhh, you came so close and I thought you were going to go there.

Lengthen the school day. As it is, teachers complain that they have to do work at home after that six hour and 45 minute work day (minus lunch). So why not simply lengthen the school day so there is time for recess and if you send out enough classes with sufficient supervision that not all teachers need to be out there, let the teachers do some of their "home work" during recess, freeing them up at night! Win-win!

Posted by: Patrick at August 17, 2010 10:43 AM

I'd love to see how that would go over, Patrick.

I had an enlightening conversation with a Providence City Councilman a few months ago:

MG: "Why are all the catchbasins full of sand? I don't like when streets flood."
CC: "We're under-resourced!"
MG: "But they used to be clean ten years ago, and the budget for public works is much higher than it was then. Providence hasn't grown much, has it?"
CC: "No, but we only have one machine to clean them out, it costs $250K, and it's on full-duty. We need another machine."
MG: "Why not run the one machine for two or three shifts? It would be like getting a 'second' machine if you just ran it for more hours every day."
CC: "Oh, those guys won't work nights."

Posted by: mangeek at August 17, 2010 11:35 AM

More like, "Oh, we won't pay them overtime."

Structured soccer games? We had a game at recess at St. Kevins. We called it muckle. Throw a ball in the air, whoever catches it has to run away from the mob intent on muckling him. The parking lot was our playground. Pavement hurts when muckled, and wreaks havoc on the uniforms. I think me an my brother kept Donneley's in business in the seventies.

Posted by: michael at August 17, 2010 11:58 AM

>>More like, "Oh, we won't pay them overtime."

Why do they have to be paid overtime? Why not put an ad in the paper for machine operators to work 4 pm to midnight. That's the work day. If they're needed to work before 4 pm or after midnight, that's overtime.

Heck, you could even lay off a few of the day workers and let them re-apply for the night job.

Posted by: Patrick at August 17, 2010 12:19 PM

Michael, Don't get me wrong, we had muckle-like games too. But we also played "regular" games and no one messed them up by creating rules on the fly. Soccer, basketball, kickball, softball, you name it, we played it and everyone went by the rules. That's because we did it all the time on our own.

Posted by: Marc at August 17, 2010 8:50 PM

Right on, Mark, I'm with you.

Posted by: michael at August 17, 2010 11:42 PM
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