Monday, October 1, 2012

Don’t punish kids by depriving them of recess

In the comments here, commenter “icl” just raised an issue that I’ve been meaning to post about for a while: punishing kids by depriving them of recess.

Our district’s Wellness Policy, enacted by our elected Board of Education, provides:
Staff will not use physical activity (e.g., running laps, pushups) or withhold opportunities for physical activity (e.g., recess, physical education) as punishment. Withholding recess will not be considered unless in extreme circumstances where all other methods have been exhausted or for continued unacceptable behavior exhibited during recess.
(Emphasis mine.)

From what I hear, recess is frequently – even routinely – withheld for misbehavior at our elementary school, at least in some classrooms. Apparently, the most common reason is to make the kids do uncompleted homework or in-class work. The teachers might not call it “punishment,” but it’s hard to see how failing to finish one’s work could qualify as the kind of “extreme circumstance” required by the Wellness Policy before recess can be withheld. Recess is also withheld for other forms of misbehavior in class.

It makes no sense to punish kids who can’t sit still by depriving them of their chance to run around. If our district wants to decrease the number of behavior problems, it should give the kids more recess, not less. (See this article, for example. And compare Finland’s practice – fifteen minutes of recess for every forty-five minutes of class – here.)

Readers, what has your experience been? Is our district’s Wellness Policy nothing but lip service?


Eastsider said...

I live on the east side of town and this has been happening at my daughter's school. They even have a homework room for those who stay in. Another parent told me that his child informed them at the end of school last year, "that they were so happy that they finally got to go to recess." The parent asked, "Don't you get to go out to recess everyday?" And they child said "No, they've been keeping in to do my homework." Apparently this child said he was kept inside for most of the spring.I find this heartbreaking since it seems like such an epic breakdown of communication between the teacher, student and parent. Why wasn't the parent asking the child about their homework and their day? Why wasn't the teacher telling the parent about the lack of homework being turned in? I know this parent and feel that if they had been notified about the lack of homework being turned in they would have done something about it, even if they weren't asking their child on a daily basis what is happening at school. It also appears that the school just assumes that the parent won't get involved with making sure things get done, and is taking on more responsibilty than it has to. This whole situation created needless anxiety for the student, and I am sure other students work are banned to the homework room.

KD said...

I think this has happened a couple of times this year in the form of shortened recess, in the form of mass punishment for the actions of a few kids.

It was early in the school year when it first happened.

One thing that bothers me about it, is that the kids who are actually behaving must feel some anger towards the ones that are not. That seems a little troubling to me that a kid who may have talked when he shouldn't have,for example, not only has to deal with the disapproval of the teacher, but the anger of his peers as well.

Chris said...

Eastsider – Thanks for the comment! How about this: maybe, when a teacher keeps a kid in from recess, he or she should be required to notify the parents, and at the same time to remind the parents of what the district’s policy actually says about withholding recess, so everyone could discuss the issue in an informed way? I think that alone might change some things. I don’t think the schools would really be comfortable with people knowing just how much recess is used as a punishment.

All of this, too, raises the issue of whether frequent homework in elementary school is valuable or necessary. For what it’s worth, there is certainly research suggesting otherwise. If it’s not only burdening kids’ free time and family time at home, but also leading to large numbers of kids missing recess, maybe the district should reconsider its attachment to homework for young children.

KD – As you know, the use of collective punishment drives me nuts. It’s completely indefensible, and teaches awful lessons about justice and fairness. And, as you point out, it’s a way to try to use peer pressure to get compliance. The schools should be trying to build up kids’ resistance to peer pressure, not trying to exploit it for their own advantage.

icl said...

Thank you for writing about this. In the time the passed since you wrote this, I brought this matter up to principal at my child's school. The principal told me they were not aware that recess was being used as a form of punishment and the school would try and rectify the situation. For a week none of the kids were held in for recess. Then the second week, another recess was added on to the schedule (twice a week) in addition to the lunch recess. For the extra recess the kids who don't get homework done, (some infractions are as minor as not having an agenda planner signed) they must stay in for the extra recess. I asked the principal about this new policy and was told some kids need extra help and they was the only time the teachers could help them. (with the extra recess). Apparently the teachers are not to keep kids in over the lunch recess now. It still bothers me though, since it still goes against the district policy and the same kids are usually being kept in. It makes me wonder if their parents know if they are being kept in, and if so, how effective is this policy if it is not changing their behavior?

Chris said...

Icl -- Wow, very interesting. I thought there wasn't any more time for recess in the schedule! Do you know what was cut to find this additional recess time?

How is it that a kid who doesn't get his planner signed needs "extra help" during recess? Sure sounds like punishment, not "extra help."

In any event, it's just as much a violation of the policy as keeping them in from the lunch recess. How does the principal square it with the policy?

icl said...

I looked at the schedule again and it looks like they are getting 20-25 mins of extra recess twice a week. It looks like they cut it out of science time. Science time had been four times a week for 50 mins. When I asked the principal about the extra recess time and that I was concerned that it still might be used as punishment I was told that the teachers were aware of the wellness policy and that weren't to use it as punishment. I get the feeling that the school views the agenda being signed as part of homework routine. I don't want to push this issue anymore with the principal and am happy that they found extra recess time--but I wish all the students were able to enjoy it. I also wish the district would do more to enforce its Wellness Policy and not just leave it up to the teachers to interpret as they wish.

Chris said...

Icl -- As far as I can tell, there is no follow-up whatsoever from the school board after it passes these policies, so it's unsurprising if the schools ignore them. At least one board member seems to feel that the board should not enforce its policies unless someone brings a Board Complaint.

As for the matter of requiring parent signatures on the planners, don't get me started. I refuse to do it, and so far teachers have been accommodating about it, which I appreciate. I've posted about the general practice of requiring signatures on homework here, and hope to write more about ("part two") soon.

eastsider said...

Not sure if my link didn't post correctly but here is the section of the letter written by a 6th grade Grant Wood teacher regarding homework and recess: "Homework:
Your student will be receiving daily homework assignments on most days but Friday. It is
your student’s responsibility to complete the homework to the best of their ability that day and
to return the completed homework to school when it is due. Students who are having
difficulties completing their assignments may call me either at school or at home and I will
help them as much as I feel they require. The assignments will be a review of what has been
demonstrated/explained/taught/practiced in class so your student should be able to
complete their assignments with little or no help. If your student is clearly stuck or frustrated
please don’t hesitate to contact me. If your student forgets the assignment(s) at school, your
student may either; come back to school and beg to be allowed back into the building, or call
me at school or home to explain. Students with missing assignments who took the initiative to
contact me will be allowed to complete their work during free time that day with no penalties.
Any assignments not completed or returned will be completed during your student’s recess
time in our classroom. As this is also my time to eat, students may or may not be able to
receive extensive homework help. If homework non-completion, or habitually “forgetting”
assignments becomes an issue, I’ll contact you to discuss and determine solutions."

Chris said...

Eastsider: Thanks for the comment. I'd have a pretty hard time seeing that as an "extreme circumstance" under the policy. Maybe someone will point the policy out to the teacher, or talk to the director of health and student services?

tired of the ICCSD said...

Has anyone noticed any change in the recess policy? Kids are still being kept in at my child's school for not completing homework.