Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Recess is not expendable

The Illinois state senate just passed a bill that would require all elementary schools in the state to have at least twenty minutes of recess every day, outdoors if possible. Twenty minutes isn’t much, but apparently some schools in Illinois offer no recess at all. As of last year, more than half of Chicago’s elementary schools, for example, offered no recess; even at the kindergarten-through-third-grade level, 46% offered no recess. Incredible.

The bill’s sponsor explained what shouldn’t need explaining:
“We can’t lose sight of the fact that kids need to be kids,” [State Sen. Kimberly Lightford said.] “Our children deserve a chance to play and relax during the school day. Learning to make friends and use your imagination is every bit as important as learning multiplication and grammar.”
Even more remarkably, the bill also “forbids schools from withholding recess as a disciplinary action.” I know a school that would have some big adjustments to make if a bill like that ever passed in Iowa.

Why doesn’t our school board pass a policy like this one about recess, or about lunch? But we know that our board sees these as “building-level decisions” in which it should not intervene. (I don’t mean to pick on one school board member there; from all appearances, the entire board agrees.)

When the state steps in and decides school issues, everyone accepts it as routine. When administrators decide school issues with no oversight, everyone accepts it as routine. How is it that the one body that would be overstepping its bounds by intervening is the one actually elected by our community to decide school issues?


Doris said...

While the local school board is at it (one wishes), I think they should also move in the direction of exploring educational models that would allow children much more control over what I'll call, for lack of a better phrase, the physical disposition of their bodies during the school day. I've always told my college students that they are free to exit the class to attend to personal needs, including during examinations; this coming fall I think I might start telling them explicitly that if they need to stand and stretch during class that they should feel welcome. I'm standing and walking around while teaching, after all. I wonder what it would be like to have a situation where students actually are standing to respond, walking around the room, etc. It seems like it could be chaotic, but my children tell me that one of the biggest "perks" of their lives in a group homeschool program is being freed from the expectation that they spend a significant chunk of their day sitting at a desk. Sometimes they are seated at a dining table, sometimes curled up in a comfy chair, sometimes sprawled on the floor, sometimes outside on a porch, etc.--and this is all while doing academic work. It sounds like some kind of homeschool cheerleading for me to point this out, I'm sure, but I like that my children are no longer being trained to learn to suppress their physical urge to move around.

Chris said...

Doris – That’s a really interesting idea. My law students seem to understand, without me making a point of it, that they can leave to use the bathroom if they need to. If undergraduates are different, I wonder if it’s because of how recently they were in high school. I strongly suspect, though, that if I invited my students to stand up and stretch when they needed to, no one would. It’s just too much of a departure from what they’re used to. But I think I will try it and see.

I do think kids in K-12 are expected to sit for much longer periods than many adults (including me) ever do. Even when I am working intently on something, I seldom sit for a continuous hour without getting up, which my kids are expected to do multiple times a day. (Or if I do, it’s because I’m leaning back in a comfy chair with my feet on my desk and my laptop on my lap.) Meanwhile we’re barraged with articles about how sitting too much is bad for you no matter how much exercise you get. Some schools are catching on, at least a little – check out the desks at Garner Elementary in North Liberty.

Chris said...

By the way, your kids’ home-school group sounds a lot like the way I work when I’m at home (for example, grading papers). Sometimes I’m leaning back in a chair with my feet up, sometimes I’m reclined on a couch, sometimes I spread out on the living room rug, sometimes I’m actually pacing around with a paper in my hand. Very seldom am I sitting upright in a chair at a table or desk. Compared to the freedom we give ourselves when we can, the Garner desks are only a very small concession to basic comfort.

Doris said...

This conversation thread made me think of "The School of Athens" in a whole new way!

Another Chris said...

Here in Florida we have a mandatory 30 minutes a day of "physical education" which the state and district frown upon calling "recess". We are expected to offer the kids "organized physical activities". Yeah, right. Free play is discouraged because????

What's maddening to me is that Dr. Maria Montessori exposed the harmful nature of having growing children sit for long periods over 100 years ago in her seminal works. Her research connected school desks at the time to bowed legs, scoliosis, and astigmatism when students sat too far from the blackboard to see.

Her observations of the physical deformities caused by schooling and common parenting practices led her to develop her theory of liberty in learning. I am pursuing Montessori certification to liberate myself from the ever more ridiculous strictures of public education.

PS Doris, I have actually been reprimanded by an administrator in the past because I allow my students to stand while working, lay in the floor, move about freely, and go the restroom/get a drink as they need. Thankfully my current principal is not that kind of leader but it's becoming more and more common due to the fake "research" that measures "time on task" and pretends to tie that to "test performance". Ugh.

LAB said...

@ Another Chris

I actually begged our public school to offer "organized physical activities" at recess but they didn't go for it. There is a real need for this kind of thing in a time when most children have no idea how to play on a playground. Due to fears for safety, etc., most parents no longer allow their young kids to take off with friends to a park, or go out at night to play kick the can. Kids don't know how to play tag, don't know how to play Red Rover, don't know how to play four square, don't know how to jump double dutch. When they get to school and are let out on the playground...[crickets]. Some kids will play ball (if there's a ball for them--sometimes there isn't!), but most just mill around. A lot of bullying happens on the playground because kids are not involved in purposeful activities. I don't think asking teachers to provide organized playground activities is a bad thing. My mother was a public school parapro from the late 70s through the 90s, and she got stuck with playground duty year after year. She made the most of that time, using it to teach and referee games, to help kids forge friendships, to help integrate kids who were stuck on the periphery. To me that's more valuable than half the stuff going on inside the school.

Another Chris said...

LAB, I do the playground duty myself, as do all the teachers in my district. And I teach the kids the games during the first 6 weeks of school. But I still argue that it is imperative to let children explore play and friendships without adult interference. The powers that be don't like the idea of freedom and liberty for children anymore. That's pretty obvious. Apparently that's becoming acceptable thinking in general and that's very alarming and sad.

Chris said...

LAB and Another Chris – This is an interesting exchange. I generally think we should give kids the freedom to do what they want unless there’s some strong reason not to, but I’m not against helping them out when they want help.

At recess, if you’re just sending kids out onto an empty field, I can see why it might be a good idea to at least offer some adult-structured activities. But if there are different spaces and different types of good playground equipment available, I’d be inclined just to let the kids do their own thing. I suppose there still might be occasions (a child ostracized or picked on?) when adults might have to step in – I just think they should be careful about it, and that, at recess, kids should generally be allowed to opt out of any organized activity.

It seems like Phys Ed (which strikes me as something very different from recess) would be a good place to accomplish some of what LAB is describing. One of my lasting grudges against my childhood gym classes is that they would send us out to play a group sport without ever teaching us the rules of the sport. Puzzling shouts of “offsides!” still linger in the memory . . .

Mandy said...

I love the idea of the desks at Garner on one hand, but on the other I think it's a huge waste of money and why have it only at one school? We already have the ability to let kids stand or add tables and various other seating options. It would be such a huge cultural shift to have kids not lined up in desks facing the same direction to listen to or watch the teacher. I think the kids should not only get to choose how they sit or stand but also how to accomplish the task. Paper and pencil? white board? computer? work alone? colloborate? I think by allowing the various choices kids who learn differently would also not be singled out as the "different" one. (It's a big part of the idea of universal design for learning)

Chris said...

Mandy -- I think they did it only at Garner because Garner was new and they would have had to buy desks anyway.

I totally agree about giving the kids more freedom to be comfortable in the classroom.