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Eliminating Recess

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  • Category: Education

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Recess is a playground for debate amongst educational researchers and philosophers. In primary schools, twenty five percent of injuries will take place on the playground (Hill). Bullying and unhealthy competition are areas of recess concern and thus recess is considered a waste of academic time. Is this a valid reason to completely eliminate recess in elementary schools? Forty percent of the nation’s 16,000 schools have either already modified, replaced, or consider eliminating recess (LaHoud). As far back as 1884, a paper written by W.T. Harris, a philosopher and educator, debated the question of whether recess should be allowed or dismissed in elementary schools (Brosnihan). When delivering his address before the Department of Superintendents of the National Education Association (DSNEA), Harris presented moral arguments defending recess by saying that the students’ physical needs outweigh the loss of discipline in the classroom. One hundred five years later in the United Nations’ Convention on the Right of the Child, adults are still trying to defend recess for their children (Brosnihan).

On the recess debate playground, concerned Americans must strongly consider the arguments of the advocates of recess, based on their scientific and philosophical analysis and their simple common solutions. One reason that schools are considering eliminating recess is that school administration is afraid of law-suits that may be filed if a child is injured during recess. Many law-suits have already taken place and in both cases the school district has been held financially responsible. In reaction to these law-suit, schools feel they have no other option but to cancel recess from a child’s daily activities. School policy makers consider it illogical for the schools to allow children to play when they are knowingly endangering the students. Safety procedures are already in place at schools to prevent injuries yet some injuries still occur because of the child’s activity level not the school’s safety procedures (Quis). The extreme reaction of eliminating recess is not the best solution for preventing playground injuries. Simple procedures such as maintaining safer playground equipment, enforcing safe play , requiring proper play apparel and instructing students in recess activities create a healthy recess environment.

If the playground equipment is old, rusty, and in poor repair the children who are constantly playing on it are more likely to receive a cut, scape or a more serious injury. Following manufacturer’s recommended age for use can help equipment stay in good repair and help prevent injuries that occur when play equipment is not used by an age appropriate user. Another safety procedure is to fence in the playground area. Children are curious and tend to explore new places. By having a fence around the playground the area that the teacher or supervisor must watch is limited. Maintaining the grass or other soft play surfaces thus when a child falls he is less likely to scrape a knee. Another safety step would be to teach the children how to play safe, cooperative, gross motor games; such as, basketball, four-square, jump rope, and follow the leader. The school will need to set and enforce clear limits and guidelines for its playground equipment use; such as, taking turns, not climbing up the slide or climbing on top of the monkey bars. By limiting the type of apparel worn on the playground the children will also stay safer.

Flip-flops or heeled shoes are hard to run in and are easy to trip and injure oneself. By requiring children dress in proper play apparel, policy enforcers are keeping students safe for play purposes and also weather protection can be enhanced. Safer procedures rather than eliminating is a way to eliminate child injuries and the risk of law suits. Parents and anti-recess proponents argue that because there is not enough supervision on a school’s playground, children are more prone to injury. When a child is not properly monitored at recess the risk for injury is increased. For schools to hire enough supervisors to insure every child’s safety at recess enhanced funding would be required. The lack of proper supervision on the playground may be contributing to the bullying of younger and less athletic children (John). Parents as volunteers are a valuable resource and may be equipped to help this need. Every school has opportunities for volunteers.

The schools can train parents to become supervisors that help provide the proper supervision on a playground. Instead the schools use these parents volunteers for other needs such as sorting books in the library. Playground developers should structure playgrounds more effectively so there are no hidden corners where children can hide. These areas are where most bullying takes place, because the teacher cannot see the children’s interactions. Another procedure a school can establish so that supervision does not become an issue is to arrange the class schedules differently so that not as many students are out on the playground at the same time. Revised schedules will prevent four teachers trying to watch 150 children. One teacher watching their twenty five students is more effective. The students may also develop a better relationship with their teacher when recess time is spent together. Most teachers will find that they enjoy the outdoor recess period as well as the children, and that the classroom work afterwards becomes easier and more endurable for both teacher and student because of the release of tension and energy.

When a teacher’s responsibilities include watching the playground during the day, the school is not paying additional wages. On average only one and a half dollars to two dollars are spent on hiring a playground supervisor for the morning and afternoon (Williams 240). With minimal restructuring schools can secure safely monitored recesses for their students. Programs have been developed to assist schools in the effort of safe playgrounds; one such program is called Peaceful Playgrounds. This non-profit company relies on government grants and donations from the public in order to help schools keep recess available to its students. They implement the walk-talk-rock system. “Walk away, calmly talk about it, or if students still cannot determine what to do, play rock-paper-scissors to find the answer.” (Peaceful Playgrounds) According to the Director of Peaceful Playgrounds, Melinda Bossenmeyer, Ed.D, this system works. Teachers have seen it work in and out of the classroom.

Because the students are being challenged to implement this system on their own during recess time, it becomes second nature to them in the classroom during free time which enhances classroom cooperation. The schools (approximately 200 schools) that have put this system into practice have seen a decrease in fighting and disputes among their students. They are encouraging this system and in return for the good behavior of their students the schools are promoting Peaceful Playgrounds and sending them donations to enhance the program (Tobias). Despite programs such as Peaceful Playgrounds school bullying on the playground has become a serious problem that many schools have to deal with. As a few children grow faster than each other, they pick on the smaller children by pushing, taking money and, even in extreme cases, initiating fight when the smaller child stands up to the bully (Mike). Eliminating recess does not eliminate bullying other issues need to be dealt with as well. The teacher’s classroom procedures and interaction with students can strengthen a child’s ability to avoid bullying.

When teachers calls a student up to the board to answer a question and that students answers incorrectly, does the teacher then correct the student in front of the class and lower that one student’s self-esteem or does the teacher let the answer stand uncorrected but boosts that student’s self-esteem? It is a misconception that correcting a child lowers the student’s self-esteem. Healthy self-esteem requires success based on truth. When a child is lovingly corrected his knowledge increases and a truth based self-esteem is established. By letting the student answer incorrectly, the teacher then is setting the student up for failure in the future. When correcting the student the teacher is disciplining him or her in the correct manner and is helping to set the student up for success in the future. The teacher must find a balance between creating successes and enhancing knowledge. A child with a healthy self-esteem is able to interact with more understanding and confidence on the playground.

This confidence protects against bullying and unhealthy interaction. Along with bullying comes the aspect of competition, which is also a major factor in why schools want to eliminate recess (Mike). Competition is a major reason schools are looking to eliminate recess. Because children are so competitive at a young age, schools feel it is necessary to minimize that competitiveness. Public opinion and misconceptions of competition are causing schools to carefully redefine student activities. Children are more competitive than ever and the schools are not sure to do deal with it (Johnson). Many parents are concerned about competition and its effect on children. Others feel that competition is nothing to worry about. In fact, moderate competition is good for children, but extreme competition can devastate a child. Research tells us that a temperament, culture, talent and age of the child affect how a child handles competition (Pellegrini). However, children are not born with a competitive urge. They learn it. They do not begin to compete with and compare their skills to others until they are about five years old.

Most children cannot work well as a member of a team until they are ten or eleven years old. They also need to be developmentally mature before they can handle defeat gracefully. These parents and teachers are arguing that too much competition is leading to bullying and with that produces low self-esteem. Teachers are trying to teach their students cooperation inside the class-room which contradicts what they are learning outside the classroom. In today’s world the basic human definition of competition has become flawed and cooperation has become ideal. According to Pellegrini, a psychologist from University of Minnesota, tag, a commonly known playground game, children learn to cooperate to the extent that the play requires. Students learn to solve problems in these forms of games and they realize that in order to sustain their chase play with peers, they must take turns being the chaser or the chased. If they refuse the game ends.

Pellegrini states, “This reciprocating role is a powerful predictor of the ability to cooperate and view events from different perspectives”. In our country today, everything consists of some type of competition, whether it is from basic family roles, sporting events, or economic well-being. This competitive nature helps us better ourselves and others. Competition pushes us forward in life. Competition can be good for children. It can help children develop healthy attitudes about winning and losing. Children become competitive as they refine and practice skills and develop coordination and cognitive abilities. Competition can encourage growth and push a child to excel. However, assume our nation was based on cooperation not competition. What would that be like? Would today’s world be a better place? First there must be a clear understanding of just how this competitive nature affects our everyday life.

Though economic and world politics we have a competitive nature, without a competitive nature the United States would not be as well off as we are today. More people would be living on the street or in houses that aren’t heated well enough for the children. In everyday jobs parents, business men and women have to be competitive in order to make the trades or deals necessary to support their jobs and family. Even at home playing family games with other siblings or parents the child is learning to have a competitive nature. Competition helps define the child’s character. As the child grows his world view grows as well. Every event in a child’s life shapes his world view, even events that take place during recess. By placing a child in different situations he is forced to confront different problem and work through them himself. Many of these situations are introduced to during recess. In today’s adult society, success is considered to be financial stability and a high ranking position in business.

Wealth and status are the human definers which create social competition. Competitive drive is required for success in today’s world. By taking recess out of a child’s day he is not taught that competitiveness thus the child is being set up for failure in a competitive society. Character development is a positive bi-product of competition. During competition children’s individuality is strengthened. Competition in life helps shape the individual thought-life of the child. Individuality is important because it will help that person gain success and status. If everybody in the business world was just like everybody else we would not have diversity in the world. Diversity brings about different solutions and different points of view for each situation. With diversity comes increased creativity because everyone’s God-given individuality is maximized.

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you!’ And the hand cannot say to the feet, ‘I do not need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be the weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts it lacks, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”- 1 Corinthians 12:21-26

The Bible states that God created everybody for His individual purposes. If there was no diversity among humans today, life would repetitious and pointless. Every person would look the same, have the same personality traits and character differences would not exist. Recess provides natural opportunities for competitive diversity to be celebrated. Through their play children benefit by respecting and building upon the creative ideas of their playmates. Recess is a great place for a child to grasp an understanding of their self image and the world around them. Adolescents learn at a young age what makes them so different than everybody else. As emphasized before, people need to be different in careers and character.

Recess enables adolescents to realize the importance of their differences and to continue to grow individually. Recess is also an excellent setting for children to learn how to govern themselves, which will also lead to the development of Christian character development. “He who knows not how to rule a kingdom, that cannot manage a province; nor can he wield a province, that cannot order a city; nor can he order a city, that knows not how to regulate a village; nor he a village; that cannot guide a family, nor can that man govern well a family that knows not how to govern himself; neither can any govern himself unless his reason be the Lord, Will and appetite her vassals: nor can Reason rule unless herself be ruled by God and (Wholly) be obedient to Him.”- Hugo Grotius 1654

As one child helps another on the playground the possibility for a lasting, strong friendships is born. During the elementary school years, a child trying to make friends on the playground will be more successful if Christian aspects shine through them. Such students will take the positive lessons learned on the playground into their classrooms and homes. Taking these Christian aspects home, into the family may significantly change the dynamics of the family for the better. The child may start to appreciate his parents more, understanding all they do for him and in return, the parent will respect the child and treat him better as well. A trend seems to be taking place in school districts in the United States. Many of these schools are implementing “no recess” policies under the belief that “recess is a waste of time that would be better spent on academics” (Johnson). Teachers say that the time would be better spent on math, reading or something children will need to have a basics for in the future. Many educators believe that would be good for test scores and grades, but other educators believe that the loss of recess time will hurt the student by not keeping his interest in school. School principles are stating that recess is a waste of valuable learning time.

On average, only thirty minutes a day is lost to recess, by allowing two fifteen minute breaks (Johnson). Recess is one of the few times a day when children are free to express a wide range of social competencies such as sharing, cooperation, and negative and positive language in a context that the student sees as meaningful. The goal of recess is to give elementary age students a break from academic application. When they return to class the students are re-energized and ready to return to structured learning again. At recess children learn how to share, get along, and deal with competitiveness on a small scale so that as they become older they will understand what is transpiring and they will know how to confront it and deal with it. There are many scientific theories about the benefits of recess. One theory, called the Novelty Theory, states that when children work constantly on one specific subject that subject become less interesting and the child becomes less attentive.

By giving the child a break from academic learning he can take part in different, engaging activities so that when he returns to school work he perceives the work as new and novel again, this novel prospective increase academic application and on-task behavior(Pellegrini). Another theory, the Cognitive Maturity Hypothesis, declares that both children and adults learn better by engaging in tasks spaced over time rather than being concentrated. Recess provides the breaks that are needed during their lessons to optimize their attention to classroom activities and time-on-task behavior (Pellegrini). There is more than social development and cognitive rejuvenation that takes place during recess. During recess children also develop a philosophical framework for decision making, such as who to play with, what to play with, and what is right or wrong. Philosophy also aids in shaping a person’s world view. By having events that shape and develop their world view early in their life, children will develop a better character which will lead to more self-disciplinary actions and create a more self-reliant individual.

If children never have to face problems on a small scale, during recess, then they will not know or understand how to face bigger problems when they get older when the consequences are greater. As children grow they gain knowledge that they apply and rely upon to accomplish God’s purposes through life, without learning those simple solutions early in life that child is set-up for failure in the business and personal world today. The debatable contrast of how adolescents act in the classroom recess needs to be addressed. Do children act disciplined inside the classroom and then undisciplined outside at recess?

The structured atmosphere of a well-managed classroom creates disciplined actions. This discipline stems largely from the teacher. When students leave the structure of the classroom the teacher directed discipline is less evident. “School-aged children strive for competence, the sense that they are able and productive human beings. In adolescence, the task is to synthesize past, present, and future possibilities into a clearer sense of self. Adolescents wonder ‘Who am I as an individual? What do I want in life? What values should I live by? What do I believe?’ Erikson called this quest to refine one’s sense of self the adolescent’s ‘search for identity” (Meyers, 117)

The playground now becomes the classroom for practicing self-discipline as the child strives for competence in a student centered environment. Along with opportunity for developing self-discipline, recess also assures that students receive enough exercise necessary for a healthy life-style. Anti-recess advocates promote structured physical education (PE) as the only venue for meeting this need. Recess and PE are two separate subjects and thus cannot be combined into the same block, but that is what school districts are attempting to do. School Board directors think that because both subjects involve the same type of exercise, they can eliminate one and recess is the easiest to eliminate. Physical education is organized by a teacher thus the same relations and developments that happen during recess do not take place during this time. During recess students are still supervised but are not in direct contact with a teacher. In this situation, schoolmates are more likely to interact with each other in different ways, ways that show their personality more clearly. Both PE and recess are a healthy part of an elementary education.

In December of 2006, a field study was performed at Heritage Christian School. The observers understood that this field study was limited to a small group, and the conclusions may have altered slightly if preformed in an expanded setting (addendum). The sociology class and I analyzed various grades after they had had recess and when they did not. We watched for various actions such as; leaving their desks to sharpen their pencil, asking to go to the restroom, talking to their neighbor and other off-task subjects. As a conclusion to our study we found that elementary students stayed more on task and were less distracted when they had recess. These classes were observed for the same amount of time and by the same students each time. We observed first graders, third graders, and sixth graders. Even though the results varied in each classroom the conclusion that recess was needed was the same for each grade. In one particular class, first grade, there were many disciplinary problems with one student.

When asking the teacher after class if that was a normal behavior for this particular student she stated that it was not and she felt the child was acting out of frustration because of no morning recess. During an interview with the teachers all three of them stated that they would have to change the way they taught if recess was not already incorporated into their everyday schedule. They said they would have to incorporate more active learning to keep the adolescent involved in the lesson. They thought that recess is good for the student as well as for themselves. Teachers use that time to catch up on their work and responsibilities such as grading papers or copying homework sheets. This break helps because they do not have to leave the classroom while the students are in there working or be distracted by papers while students need help learning.

If adolescent never have to face problems on a small scale, during recess, then they won’t know or understand how to face bigger problems when they get older and when the consequences are greater. As children grow up they learn the correct demeanor and take with them. They rely on this demeanor to facilitate them through life. Without acquiring these simple solutions, such as the peaceful playground program or learning how to handle themselves accordingly and in the correct demeanor, children are immediately set up for failure. In today’s adult society, a person is considered successful if they are financially stable and hold a high ranking business position. One is defined by wealth and status, which in return make you more competitive. Competitive drive can enhance success in today’s world.

Taking recess out of a child’s day may be teaching them that competitiveness is wrong, thus again setting the child up for failure in the long run. Researcher and philosophers have been debating on the recess playground since 1884. The winners of the struggle must come down on the part of recess being an essential allotment of a child’s everyday life. Here they grow and learn aspects of life they cannot learn in a classroom setting. Even though recess may sometimes bring about a competitive spirit this spirit will help them in the future as they grow and learn. By taking recess out of their lives they are deprived of advantages learned during recess. Most schools recognize this and are fighting to keep recess in their school and part of the everyday school day.

Work Cited

Addendum. Personal Research. 29 Nov 2006

Brosnihan, Lauren “ A Brief History of Recess” Recess! The World of Children’s Culture Everyday. 05 Nov 2003 Transcripts 06 Jan 2007<http://www.recess.ufl.edu/transcripts/2003/1105.shtml>

Harris, Lynn. “More Schools banning “dangerous” games at recess.” Broadsheet 28 June 2006 15. 27 Nov 2006 <HTTP://www.salon.com/mwt/broadsheet/2006/06/28/no_tag_at_recess/index.html>.

I’m Outraged. 29 June 2006 Letters To The Editor 28 Nov 2006 <HTTP://letters.salon.com/mwt/broadsheet/2006/06/28/no_tag_at_recess/view/?order=asc>

Hill, Bill. “News Journal on line.” Outlaw Recess?. 09 Dec 2006 Daytona Beach News 03 Jan 2007 <HTTP://www.news-journalonline.com/NewsJournalOnline/Opinion/Columnists/DJCol/col.htm>

John. News. The End of the World as we Know it. 18 Oct 2006 Power Line 26 Nov 2006

Johnson, Dirk. “Many Schools putting an end to Play.” New York Times[New York] 07 Apr 1998, ed:A1, A16

Joshi, Rashmi. News. “All I Needed to Know, I Learned during Recess”. 01 Nov 2006. UCLA education. 27 Nov 2006

LaHoud, Susan. “The Sun Chronicle.” Tagged Out. 17 Oct 2006. Sun Chronicle. 27 Nov 2006 <HTTP://www.thesunchronicle.com/articles/2006/10/18/features/feature37.txt>

Little, Cathy. Personal interview. Teacher. 29 Nov 2006

Loyd, Stacy. Personal interview. Teacher. 29 Nov 2006

Meyers, David. Exploring Psychology. Page117. Fifth Edition. Holland, Mich.:Worth Publishers, 2002.

Mike. “Mike’s Neighborhood” The Violent World of Recess. 18 Oct 2006 Blogspot 25 Nov 2006 <HTTP://mikesneighborhood.blogspot.com/2006/10/violent-world-of-recess.html>

Miller, Doylene. Personal interview. Teacher. 29 Nov 2006

Pellegrini, Anthony “British Journal of Education” Relations between children’s playground and Classroom Behavior. 1993 <www.library.adoption.com/Education>

Shelby, Don. “In the Know: Banning Tag at Recess.” In The Know 19 Oct 2006 26. 27 Nov 2006 <HTTP://wcco.com/intheknow/local_story_292100319.html>.

Tobias, Suzanne. “Peaceful Playgrounds.” Peaceful Playgrounds. Apr 2005. The Wichita Eagle 26 Nov 2006 <HTTP://www.peacefulplaygrounds.com/press31.html>

Quis, Deus. “Website Toolbox” Tag is Now Out. 18 Oct 2006 Website Toolbox 25 Nov 2006 <HTTP://www.websitetoolbox.com/tool/post/apologia/vpost?id=1455830&trail=14#3>

Williams, Jesse, Mary Burgess, and Thomas Wood. Healthful Schools: How to Build, Equip, and Maintain Them. 1st ed. Houghton Mifflin company 1918

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