Sunday, March 29, 2015

Re-imagining recess

According to, recess is a noun defined as temporary withdrawal or cessation from the usual work or activity

Gee. That sounds like fun. 

Synonyms include respite, rest, break, and vacation. At my elementary school, all kids have recess each day, which is spent running around, riding trikes, and playing soccer. Doing the monkey bars and having fun on the slide. Playing football and basketball. Hanging out. Having snack. Sounds like fun, and I do think if you asked the kids they would say they like recess. But, recess is tricky at our school. See our playground below?
This is our playground.
If you think it looks like a truck stall, you are right. Truly, it's decent- for a truck stall, but it's way too small for all of the things kids try to do in that space. Balls land on top of the semi trailers from the Big Box store next door. There is NO grass. No field. And almost no shade. It works as well as it can, but kids can get a little banged up out there. Our office staff is always handing out band-aids and ice packs for skinned knees and kids that get accidentally hit in the soccer ball walking through the gym. I have spent tons of time out on the yard trying to figure out how to make it safer for kids and more enjoyable. Last Friday, our third grade teachers brought out some jumpropes to play with the kids. It was the best recess ALL YEAR. Why? Kids were engaged and having fun and not running full speed in a space built for a semi. And look at the smiles!

Ms. Fraser and Ms. Steinlein rocking the jumpropes!

Watching the third graders that day definitely got me thinking that we needed more things for the kids to do at recess. And just before that, at the morning walk, I watched kids rocking out and dancing at our Fit Friday walk -- inspired by some Kids Bop tunes!

Lunch is kind of like recess. With all of the kids in one place, sitting with not much to do, behavior can sometimes be a challenge. Last Friday, I turned on the Kids Bop version of Uptown Funk in the lunchroom. And this happened.

Smiles. Singing. Not one behavior problem. Just passionate kids singing their hearts out. Doing something they loved. But then, at recess, the same old problems happened. Too many kids, too little space and nothing much to do. I tried scheduling different games in the gym on different days. I tried limiting the number of kids in one space. I was out there myself, encouraging yard supervisors to move around and actively engage kids. Still, the band-aid parade continued. 

And then I read this post about Montpelier High School in Vermont and how they shifted their schedule to add 15 minutes for recess- in high school. But what I read in that post had nothing to do with basketball or band-aids. "Recess" became "Unplugged" -- 15 minutes for students to unwind, relax, and connect with friends in a variety of activities. Some of the activities include Knitting, Meditation, Yoga, Frisbee, Board games, Jam band, Graffiti art board, 15-minute workout and a "Walk + talk" (talking a walk on the school grounds).

"Students or teachers can suggest and lead activities. When a student suggests and wants to lead an activity, Bill makes sure there will be faculty supervision and involvement. He also makes sure there is a room for the activity, so if a student wants to do theater improvisation, he investigates whether the auditorium is available during that time. If a teacher wants to lead basketball, the gym should be available. Activities can also vary depending on the weather. When it's nice out, students like to be outdoors for Frisbee, or a 15-minute workout, or a walk around the school grounds."

I realized I've been thinking about recess all wrong. I've been doing recess the way we did it when I was a kid. At my old school. This post made me think that we can do better. When we get back from Spring Break, I'm excited about the possibilities for re-imagining recess at our school. It took reading a blog post about high school kids to get me to realize what's been right in front of me all along. Jason Markey blogged here about making time for students to create and follow their passion. I already knew that the best times in our day happen when kids are connecting, having conversation, and doing something they love. Like Legos! Or Yo-yos?

Why not recess? 

The Yo-Yo Zone

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for working so hard to make recess safe and fun for everyone, especially given the challenges of the space at STAR. When asked what she'd do at recess if she could do anything, first our daughter said she wished she could swing on swings. When given some of the ideas from this blog, she liked the idea of Legos, outside play (i.e. regular recess), and yo-yos. She says, "Thank you!" ;)