Principal Declares Recess is NOT “Free Time”

Hi Readers! Sometimes I think our society has come so far from darkness to enlightenment (no more Inquisition, for instance; no more Scarlet A’s) that we have come full circle and are now back to being idiots. A case in point? This principal’s letter to parents about why she doesn’t want kids to consider recess  “free time.”

“[Our school is working to] change the perception of recess from free time away from learning to a valuable learning experience that will teach them and will help them cope in all social settings and environments. When children view recess as “free time” they have a tendency to act in a less responsible manner and push the limits of irresponsible behavior. In order to change the perception of recess, children must see that its content is respected and valued.”

Principal Mumbo-Jumbo is so into respecting “content” (whatever the heck that means) that she has outlawed tag! I guess by NOT running around, and NOT having carefree fun, and by thinking long and hard about LEARNING every single second of the day, these kids are going to turn into marvels of responsibility.

If they don’t tie her to the flag pole  first.

Anyway, this isn’t my school, it’s the school that one of our readers sends her kids to, and here is her pleasantly profane blog post about the whole situation. Meantime, she is meeting with the principal this Friday to try to talk about the no tag/no freedom recess situation. She’s looking for moral support and some blow-that-bloviator-away arguments. Go for it! — Lenore

Photo Credit: Visual Dichotomy

Remember, kids: Just because it’s “free time” doesn’t mean it’s free time!

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84 Responses to Principal Declares Recess is NOT “Free Time”

  1. LauraL January 28, 2010 at 4:49 am #

    I think this principal needs to go back to school and re-take her early education instruction…

  2. Nicola January 28, 2010 at 4:52 am #

    Good grief!

    I think the very first thing I would point out to this principal is that every species with the capability for limited higher thinking engages in play in order to help prepare itself for the rigors of adulthood. Rodents play, parrots play, dogs and cats play (with their siblings anyway), bears play, horses play, cows play, wolves play… play trains the young brain of these animals for how to hunt, and how to be social with members of its species. Humans are absolutely no different in that we need play to learn how to be social creatures as well. Take that away and we’re going to have to make even more laws because we’ve intellectualized ourselves so much we won’t know how to even solve our basic issues.

    Play IS the work of children, as it is with most young animals on this planet. It IS teaching them – just different skills than academics. It IS important!!!

  3. SKL January 28, 2010 at 4:52 am #

    OK, just a couple weeks ago I was reading about some educational theory that young kids actually learn how to be responsible by having more time to play (without direction). This is the reason KG was once devoid of academics. The logic is, when kids are free, they naturally practice setting boundaries and, like everything kids create in play, they take their self-determined boundaries very seriously. This includes social boundaries as well as other types. Of course, it’s hard to prove that nowadays, because it is so rare for kids to engage in any activity without significant direction.

    I’m not saying I agree with that KG philosophy, but a reasonable amount of free group play time for all kids would seem to be essential.

    It seems the principal probably should have said that just because recess is free time, that doesn’t mean it’s a time to disrespect each other. I would agree with that. Personally, I loathed gym and recess because many kids seemed to think they were free to be nasty and violent toward others during those times. The worst was when everyone was forced (by the teacher) to take part. So the other side of a “free” recess is freedom for those who would rather not be a part of such shenanigans.

  4. pentamom January 28, 2010 at 4:56 am #

    How are kids going to learn to think for themselves and apply what they’re being taught, if they spend every second learning, and not a single second with a chance to think about and act on what they’ve learned? I’m not saying kids spend recess in intense philosophical meditation, but as an example, an endless series of lectures on “being nice to people” is worthless if you’re never given three free seconds around other people with the option to be nice to them, or not. Or you’re never able to realize that “being nice” happens in different ways in different contexts, because you’re only ever in the context of “being taught.” That opportunity to put it into practice is the final and necessary step of the learning process. And recess is the perfect opportunity for that.

    Or more simply, how can they ever learn to be responsible if they’re never given the CHANCE to be irresponsible? It’s idiocy.

    Besides which, even if she had a valid point, anyone who trades in that kind of blather doesn’t deserve to be listened to.

  5. gflprofnet January 28, 2010 at 4:56 am #

    About 3 years ago, my son’s school hit the national headlines in Scotland because the head teacher (principal) decided to introduce a “no hands” rule. That was a response to a series of incidents that had taken place.

    My son was very funny about it all. All the children started taking the mickey out of the situation. They played pretend tag in front of the adults and a huge carry on was had over who touched or din’t touch who. Basically the children didn’t get mad – they got even!

    There is lots of research about the benefits of free play and the need for recess. I like Kaplan’s Attention Restoration Theory which suggests that if people have been working hard for an hour or two, they need a real break outdoors and preferably in contact or near nature. Inspiring Scotland has a lot of information about free play.

    Recently the Scottish Government released £4M to be spent on children’s free play. This includes grants given to schemes designed to get children playing in adjacent woodland to playgrounds during school hours. Right now, schools need to be examining whether they should be introducing more free play not less during the school day.

  6. Dot Khan January 28, 2010 at 5:01 am #

    Playing and horsing around don’t become teachable moments until 20 years later when we have kids ourselves. A bunch of my high school buddies talked about all of the risky things we did when we were young. We wouldn’t have learned from our mistakes if we didn’t have the chance to bump our heads while try something that the authority figures only told us not to do vs the experience of seeing it firsthand. This is nothing new, my dad once was jumping from rooftop to rooftop.
    (One friend got no advice from dad but has made up for it with his kids so they are better prepared for the world.)

  7. Rachelh January 28, 2010 at 5:13 am #

    Yikes! Structure, structure, structure… While I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that that children need a rhythm to their day, the idea of taking away their last bit of un-structured time makes me so sad. How are these children going to function when they need to use their atrophied imagination, or deal with another human being without someone there to explain how to do it the “right way”?

    SO grateful that we found a school for our son that believes in LOTS of unstructured playtime for the little ones, and still has unstructured recess for the older kids. The kids go on nature walks all the time, and climb trees that are too tall, and make mud puddles when it rains, and play tag, and throw balls, and… Excuse me while I go give his school a BIG HUG!

  8. pentamom January 28, 2010 at 5:23 am #

    Now that I reread Principal Blather’s statement, it’s even sillier.

    She’s not saying that recess isn’t going to involve free play, she’s saying she wants kids to approach recess in a serious-minded way, and not to regard it as “freedom,” because freedom apparently means (to her) primarily freedom to be selfish and inconsiderate.

    So in the first place, she’s not talking about doing anything differently, she’s talking about how she’s going to try to make second-graders have abstract concepts in their heads when they’re playing tag. And in the second place, she apparently associates freedom ONLY with freedom from moral restraint, and NOT with freedom to choose the good. Yay. THERE’s a good role model, and a wonderful person to be in charge of the education of children.

    Maybe instead of making freedom the enemy, and trying to control the philosophical framework kids are working under while on the monkey bars, she should try teaching kids to use their freedom wisely — otherwise known as teaching them to internalize appropriate interpersonal behavior, EVEN WHEN they’re in free time. Wouldn’t THAT be a novel idea.

  9. Jan S January 28, 2010 at 5:38 am #

    I went to Baldwin Hill Elementary school back in the 1960s from kindergarten thru 4th grade. All our recesses and lunchtime activities were structured games. At the beginning of the day the teacher would explain the rules for the game we were to play. There were many numbered courts throughout the asphalt playground, designed to accommodate this myriad of structured sports activities. We were expected to self-regulate the games, and we were required to participate. There was ‘Coach’ overseeing the entire playground, to keep general order. He was a crew-cutted authority figure whom we respected.

    Those are some of the happiest memories I have. No one was left out, we got exercise, no one assembled into snotty cliques. We developed athletic skills and learned to cooperate.

    I’m totally in favor of structured recess. In 5th grade my Mom moved us to Beverly Hills because of the excellent schools, but they had a free for all recess with cliques, people excluded, kids lolling around. There was more fighting there too.

  10. Michelle January 28, 2010 at 6:03 am #

    Jan, that’s great you had a good experience with it, but I have to respectfully disagree with you. Some of my favorite memories are the play we had during recess. In 2nd grade a friend and I use to pretend we were Batman and Robin and make up stories on the playground about it. In 4th and 5th grade we’d smuggle plastic spoons out from the cafeteria, and make little snow nests with dirt eggs in the ground. We’d mix it up sometimes by playing dodgeball or tag, or on the equipment, but that was some of my favorite time.

    Structured recess removes all the creativity from kid’s play which is really sad since school for the most part removes it anyways with all their “teach to the test” crap. Call structured recess what it is – PE class.

  11. Rich Wilson January 28, 2010 at 6:07 am #

    How will new games be invented if kids are forced to stick to what the teachers know?

    How will ANYTHING new be invented if we stick to ‘teachable moments’. Education isn’t just about learning what’s known, it’s about learning about what is yet to be known.

    (Or at least it sure as hell should be)

  12. Brian January 28, 2010 at 6:08 am #

    @Jan S – you bring the issue into very clear relief. IN an ideal world, kids will use their free time for play in a way which helps them to grow and learn. The establish boundaries, they make up rules, they learn to self regulate in a way where everyone learns and grows. There is even a school of thought that peer pressure, which is usually thought of as being bad, can be good when it helps kids to see the consequences of negative actions (from being rude to their friends or being overweight).

    But there’s the dark side of this that we don’t talk about much on this blog – the “lord of the Flies” problem. If you let a group of kids run the show without intervention, there is a reasonably good chance that some of the kids will be harmed by what transpires. And not harmed in the “I got a bloody nose and learned a lesson” harmed, but harmed in the “I’m miserable because I spent all of middle school seeing myself as a worthless flat blob unworthy of love.”

    It’s a very difficult balancing act. For kids, play should be fun. But some kids idea of fun is to be mean to other kids. Some kids don’t get to play at all if not encouraged by their peers. Some kids come to feel that if they are great at something right away, they shouldn’t try at all due to the fear of public failure.

  13. small town girl January 28, 2010 at 6:55 am #

    While this approach is somewhat silly, I don’t think it’s wise to say “Psh, any principal or whoever who says recess is not free time is crazy.”

    I say this because of one simple fact: “Free time” is not valued in instructional terms. The first thing that goes when more curriculum is introduced is free time.

    In this context, absurd. But claiming recess isn’t free time and has value? An absolutely awesome way to save it from the garbage bin. You’d be absolute amazed at how many activities parents and others abhor when explained on the “it’s fun and it’s silly and they need free time” side, but those same activities when explained as having value will be defended to the death by the exact same people.

    A horse is a horse by any other name. Don’t knock relabeling in general just because you prefer a different one. That relabeling might just be the thing that saves what you love.

  14. JeninCanada January 28, 2010 at 8:04 am #

    Free time to play is when children learn the most:

    Psychology today blogger and researcher and professor Peter Gray as an excellent series called Children Educate Themselves that I think everyone in public education should read, ESPECIALLY this stupid principal.

  15. Stephanie January 28, 2010 at 8:09 am #

    How I hope the principal is talking about an attitude, not a requirement that kids do whatever it is she thinks kids should be doing for recess. Talking about the valuable content sounds like a first step toward a more organized recess, which sounds just awful to me. Kids need time to be kids. That means relatively free time at recess.

    They won’t always be fair to each other, no. They’re kids. They do dumb stuff to each other and themselves. That’s where appropriate adult supervision comes in.

  16. Jan S January 28, 2010 at 8:15 am #

    The problem today, actually, is the amount of homework the cuts into free play AFTER school. Also, the lifestyle changes that have destroyed the neighborhoods where kids used to reign until dark, play baseball in the middle of the street, and use the whole block for hide and seek.

  17. Amanda January 28, 2010 at 9:39 am #

    My daughter attends a private independant school that stresses academics and most of the kids who go there get awesome grades. In between these learning times, the children have THREE recesses: one morning, one after lunch and one in the afternoon and it’s considered free time. Obviously, the free time hasn’t adversely affected how well they do academically.

  18. Kim January 28, 2010 at 10:03 am #

    I’m going to date myself with this comment, but what the hell…

    When we were in 1st and 2nd grades, my friends and I used to spend most of our recess time playing “Little House on the Prairie”, which was our favorite TV show at the time. There was a huge oak tree outside the doors that led to the playground (where there was still REAL playground equipment, like swings, see-saws and monkey bars…imagine that!!!) and part of its roots had grown into kind of a bowl shape. That was our kitchen, where we mixed dirt, moss, acorns and whatever else we could lay our grubby little hands on into “dinner”. The metal “fire truck” climbing toy was our school, or something like that. The hopscotch and four-square courts were our houses. And each of us got to pretend that we were one of the characters…Laura, of course, was the most coveted role. (Sadly, most of the time, I got stuck being Nellie.)

    What did we learn from it? Probably not a darn thing, but I can tell you that a few of us went on in our later school years to take part in drama club and other creative endeavors.

    I also received my very first marriage proposal at recess when I was in 2nd grade, from a boy who was in 1st grade. We used to chase each other around the playground almost every day. What did we learn from it? Nothing much. But that guy has been my best friend for nearly 30 years, and he is my daughter’s godfather.

    You don’t have to take the “free time” out of recess for kids to learn from it. Just keep in mind that what they learn might not have anything to do with grades or test scores.

  19. bmj2k January 28, 2010 at 10:39 am #

    Here in NYC that is the type of nonsense that comes straight out of the Mayor’s Principal Academy. It is there that Mayor Bloomberg indoctrinates them into his “everyone’s nanny” way of thinking.

    Longer-tenured Pricipals rightly see recess as a time to blow off steam and relax. No young child can stay “structured” in a classroom all day!

  20. pentamom January 28, 2010 at 10:41 am #

    I don’t think the choice has to be between “freedom isn’t something we should let kids have because they’ll abuse it” and “Lord of the Flies,” though. I don’t think (maybe I’m wrong) anyone’s suggesting that recess should be an unsupervised free for all. It’s just that the time should be, well, free, for the kids to do things within the usual rules that pertain to behavior. I’ve long complained that there isn’t enough supervision of what kids do to each other in schools at all levels, but the alternative isn’t make sure they never have a moment of actual freedom. Let the kids do what they want with their free time, but make sure that there’s nothing really harmful going on. Seems simple enough to me (though not necessarily easy to implement.)

  21. Floyd Stearns January 28, 2010 at 11:03 am #

    What a crock…that school needs a new principal with some common sense.

  22. amy January 28, 2010 at 11:09 am #

    I highly recommend the book titled “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder”.

    Many of your readers are likely to have read it– I would seriously recommend that the principal in question do as well.

    While the title emphasizes the need for “nature”, (and this is the theme of the book), it is really only one theme. The author also writes about the kids’ need of unstructured and (gasp!) UNSUPERVISED play. It dispels the myths that surrounding hypervigilance and stranger-danger. Reading this book, and the ways in which our kids are suffering socially, emotionally, creatively, spiritually and YES, even intellectually and academically because they are prevented from having such “free time”, will get anyone who cares about their kids and open to hearing the truth, to send their kids out to play.

  23. Coco January 28, 2010 at 12:04 pm #

    Does anyone else imagine the principal as being exactly like the one from “Uncle Buck” who talked about 6-year-old “not taking her academic career seriously”?

    Learning activities at recess. How fun. What’s next, Learn To Fill Out A Tax Return Day?

  24. Angeline January 28, 2010 at 12:19 pm #

    Perhaps what the principal meant was that play during recess is valued by the educators as valuable learning time. There is nothing wrong with that. The problem comes when adults expect children to view it in the same way. It is not the job of (nor is it possible for) the child to have an adult-like-perspective about what they are learning/gaining through play: how to negotiate social situations, cardio vascular health, a sense of freedom and control over one’s choices about how to recreate… To force a person, especially a child, to have learning experiences and simultaneously objectively understand those learning experiences is simply impossible.

  25. Andrea and Noah January 28, 2010 at 12:51 pm #

    “They should have a little playtime and freedom to think. It helps them learn. Please can you let them have some playtime and freedom.”

    These wise words from my six-year-old, home-schooled son, who spent most of yesterday with his friends wandering the hills of Topanga looking for animal tracks (and they found some).

    If kids don’t have time for free play, their minds and bodies will shrivel, the obesity epidemic will grow and the powers that be will go around wondering what happened. Meanwhile, the medical community will spend millions of dollars on a cure for obesity instead of using some common sense

  26. Steven January 28, 2010 at 1:25 pm #

    I think this guy needs to retake the 3rd grade all over again and remember what it feels like.

  27. Jacqui January 28, 2010 at 1:25 pm #

    the standard early childhood education view is that children’s play IS children’s work and is more important to achieving learning goals as is time spent learning by rote. Don’t take it from me, ask the experts at Childhood Education International!

  28. Patrick Pyatochkin January 28, 2010 at 4:53 pm #

    What a crockthat school needs a new principal with some common sense.

  29. Gerry January 28, 2010 at 5:16 pm #

    I am so glad I went through grade school (early ’60’s)before The Fall of Fun.

    I remember playgrounds without bumper pads, and grassy football fields where skinned knees and elbows were badges of honor, not exhibits A and B in a lineup of activities condemned by “enlightened” academic policiy makers.

    I look back with gratitude to rowdy play times supervised by reasonable adults who, thankfully, allowed fun to reign and learning to rule, both in their proper time and place, each reinforcing the best of the other.

  30. Izzy January 28, 2010 at 6:52 pm #

    As a 14 yr olds perspective…
    Childs play is what forms our creative perspectives of imagining a hypothetical situation and having fun with it. No offence intended… Many teachers at my school are contol freaks who have to control what font you sumbit your work in… So pretty much their dictators :p well some of them.

    Anyways… Many adults lose the whole life is fun and is about learning from life, not structured topics on how rain is formed or how to play basketball in pe classes. This happens when people loose their perspective on being a child.

  31. WiseJamaican January 28, 2010 at 7:02 pm #

    We need to look from the Principal point of view. Most of the children look towards recess not to rest their minds but instead going out of their ways to make mischief while there are the others uses it to rejuvenated for the next session. Teaching these children that recess is a way to help them to manage their time efficiently to me is a good thing. I have seen children that were time wasters has continue to be this in their adult life.

  32. sueg January 28, 2010 at 7:53 pm #

    As a part of my job as an elementary school special ed classroom assistant, I supervise lunch and recess. Many things come to mind:

    (1) Kids learn negotiation tactics while playing together, something important for them to know how to do WITHOUT an adult to guide the process. They’ll be adults someday, and they need to know how to negotiate without crying and stomping off to their boss.
    (2) Kids can use their IMAGINATIONS and create whatever play situation they would like. Few kids are able to do that as it is!
    (3) Most kids need unstructured time so that they can blow off steam, which will help them focus better through the rest of the day.
    (4) Some kids just want a moment of aloneness…Just yesterday I watched a boy read a chapter of Harry Potter in a gym with 90 4th graders all running & screaming around him. (sub-zero wind chill–indoor recess)
    (5) This can be where kids find out what they are made of. What will their character be later in life? You see that develop in the subtleties of their interaction. (Do they include others? Do they shove someone when they think no one is looking? Do they hover near a grownup because they can’t connect to the other kids?)

    That being said, our school district has a bell-to-bell instruction policy. On days where a particular class has gym class, they are not supposed to have recess (outside of their lunchtime recess). Our teachers have gotten very creative with regard to getting an extra slot in, here and there. (Playgrounds are ripe with geometry and physics opportunities!) It’s amazing what “the powers that be” think will make kids more effective learners.

  33. NJMom January 28, 2010 at 8:41 pm #

    This PRINCIPAL can’t even write a proper sentence, much less have a sensible attitude toward learning and play. Sheesh.

  34. Lakia January 28, 2010 at 8:45 pm #

    What in the world?! This is kinda mean… When I was growing up, I NEEDED that break to relax my mind.

  35. Dragonwolf January 28, 2010 at 9:27 pm #

    You know, I bet if people let their kids play in more unstructured time, we wouldn’t have so many kids diagnosed with ADD/ADHD.

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I can only handle sitting in a classroom for so long before I need a break.

    And I’m in grad school!

  36. jeanette January 28, 2010 at 9:49 pm #

    Recently our 8th Grade was called in for a full grade assembly before lunch and recess. They were lectured about how they had been behaving in a manner that did not make them look like role models and leaders to the younger grades …were they smoking dope? Were they having sex under the bleachers? Were they pulling guns on eachother or downloading porn? …No – They were playing ‘Primary games’ during recess….and in a show of solidarity / civil disobedience and maybe a little disrespect ….the minute the principal left the room after the 20 minute tirade, they began an enormous game of Duck Duck Goose …From what I hear, he damn near exploded!

  37. CandaceID January 28, 2010 at 9:50 pm #

    Playing the Devil’s Advocate here, I wish adults had more ambition to watch and be involved in their children’s play instead of using it as a time for their own self-absorption and adult-free-time.

    Unstructured time is great, but ALSO provides great “teachable moments” where you can coach kids — “Billy, you have other options from beating the hell out of Katie. What else could you do?” etc.

    Completely unstructured time for children who are raised on violent t.v. & games can mean “teaching” children that anything goes and the adults don’t give a crap about what they do as long as they aren’t having to deal it.

  38. Lola January 28, 2010 at 10:07 pm #

    Okay, don’t call it free time, call it leisure learning or something… But even so, it is really amazing that so many people think that “freedom” means “no limits”, and “free time” means “wasted time”. Sad, sad, sad…

    BTW, has anyone read “Momo”, by Michael Ende, lately? I loved it when I was a kid… I read it to my eldest just now and it gave me the creeps, so prophetic it was!

  39. travelrat January 28, 2010 at 10:15 pm #

    Words fail me! (at least, printable ones do!)

    Do you suppose that principal is going to give up her lunch breaks and coffee breaks too? I bet she isn’t!

  40. Sarah Marriott January 28, 2010 at 10:24 pm #

    Just one more reason I like home-educating my kids. We do school work for a fraction of the time and recess is longer than our school day. Oh, and often recess includes playing with kids and adults of all ages so we never get stuck in that age-rut.

  41. Lauren January 28, 2010 at 10:31 pm #

    stop thinking, darn it, and let kids do what they do best! I don’t have much else to say; except that I’m afraid in 20 years we’ll have a huge slew of soft, touchy, overly-sensitive idiots running the country.

  42. Mae Mae January 28, 2010 at 10:39 pm #

    Candace – I think the kids can have those teachable moments without adults being around. If Billy hits Katie and no adults are around, most likely the kids around will tell Billy to cut it out or they’ll all go off and leave Billy by himself. Thus making a point to Billy that he can learn from.

    Now, if this is something that Billy always does and no one can stop him, then teach your kids before they go out on their own to steer clear of him. We had a bully on our street. Every time he came out to play, the kids would go indoors to play. He learned and now they all get along.

    I know this won’t work in every situation but I don’t think my children need me there to learn from and teach in these moments.

  43. helenquine January 28, 2010 at 10:41 pm #

    travelrat said: “Do you suppose that principal is going to give up her lunch breaks and coffee breaks too?”

    I don’t agree with this principal’s attitude to recess, but I think this comment shows a total lack of understanding of the job principals have nowadays.

    I don’t know a teacher, much less a principal, who has any completely free time at work. During their coffee breaks they’re marking work, preparing for the next class or discussing behavior issues. During their lunch breaks they’re running a club or filling in assessment forms. If you take any time to do nothing you’re basically just stacking up the work you’re going to have to do later.

    I expect this is how this principal works and s/he thinks kids should be doing the same. Which is crazy in book.

    I think small town girl has a point about re-framing recess as a time when children learn through their play being an important way to protect it. That’s basically saying we should formalize the free-range idea that free play is important so people don’t think it’s OK to wipe it off the schedule the minute there’s any pressure. But if this principal has banned tag (as Lenore’s post says) I don’t think s/he’s completely going that route.

    I would suggest to the parent whose kid goes to this school that they go armed with some of the latest research into how important free play is in terms of people learning negotiation and other social skills. It does seem like the pendulum is swinging back in favor of this type of thinking for schools – this principal is just a little behind the leading edge. Try and convince them that they need to rethink and get ahead of the curve.

  44. Dave January 28, 2010 at 11:03 pm #

    If free time becomes “learning time” they will learn everything but how to get along and work out their own problems. This is the most rediculous thing I have ever heard.

  45. blackwatertown January 28, 2010 at 11:05 pm #

    I suppose it’s possible the headteacher’s remarks have been misrepresented somehow – but if not, how wrong wrong wrong.
    Run around. Blow off steam. Forget the classroom.

  46. Azzy January 28, 2010 at 11:28 pm #

    Recess time is meant to be free time . It is the time to release the tension they had in class. It is also to rest from all the schoolwork. If school stress on only being perfect little students than the principal need some teaching on how to be kids. Kids are by nature playful, run around and acting like little monkeys. She needs to be reminded how it is to be a kid again.

  47. M + B January 29, 2010 at 12:01 am #

    Gag. Peter Gray has the argument in his latest blog post on Freedom To Learn (he cites your book in the post, too)

  48. qtrixie January 29, 2010 at 12:37 am #

    Great discussion! I am all for free-play and I believe kids need to have unsupervised time to practice life and society.

    A few comments:
    Jan S said:
    “Those are some of the happiest memories I have. No one was left out, we got exercise, no one assembled into snotty cliques. We developed athletic skills and learned to cooperate. ”

    I wonder if everyone felt that way. Perhaps a child who was not athletically inclined felt forced or even made fun of? What about the child that wants to just read? I know myself and I would have hated structure. We had two playgrounds next to each other and they were mirrors of each other. It was supposed to be 3rd and 4rth grade on one and 5th and 6th grade on the other but us kids made it boys and girls playgrounds and had seasonal games between the two groups. These “dedicated” playgrounds would flip if one of the groups charged and “captured” the other group’s headquarters (monkey bars). To be told you must play these games with these rules takes all the fun out of recess!

    Sarah said:
    “often recess includes playing with kids and adults of all ages so we never get stuck in that age-rut.”
    Here again I think the kids need time without adults. Kids act differently with an adult standing there and if you homeschool they have more reason for free time away from adults. You might feel like a kid but believe me kids do not view adults as kids but merely adults.

  49. Comedy Mike January 29, 2010 at 12:49 am #

    What is the definition of recess? mmm, Free Time?

  50. jim January 29, 2010 at 1:16 am #

    Mike Royko did a couple of great columns about the Chicago school system called “How To Speak Educator” where he offered lists of subject phrases, verb phrases, and modifier phrases of polysyllable nonsense. You picked one from column A, one from column B, and one from column C at random, and created sentences of very offical-sounding, totally meaningless gibbrish which made you sound just like a Ph.D Ed. All phrases were, of course, taken from actual Chicago school memos.

  51. Sky January 29, 2010 at 1:56 am #

    Am I the only one who read the principal’s statement as saying that play is a valuable way for children to learn, and should not bee seen as a waste of time, but as a valuable experience that teaches social skills, thinking, etc. – the very kind of things people on this blog say all the time? I THINK that is what she meant. However, even though true, you don’t need to tell the KIDS that. Don’t ruin their play by letting them KNOW it’s learning and insisting they THINK of it as learning. Just let them play! Kids don’t care about that educational idealogical gobledy talk. And when you try to make a point that something is learning, that is often when it ceases to be fun, even if it would have been fun before the learning aspect was pointed out.

  52. Lisa January 29, 2010 at 2:11 am #

    I wonder if this principal has “Free Time” during her lunch break?

  53. pyrit January 29, 2010 at 2:21 am #

    Ah ha. As I thought. Now I know I have learned how to tell by the title if a post is a useless, button-pushing rant.

  54. Kimberly Hosey (AZ Writer) January 29, 2010 at 2:27 am #

    Oh my gosh. How ridiculous is that?

    Kids need teaching, and structure, and guidance. But some of the very best things happen when you send them off with all those things in their heads (somewhere in there), and just let them BE.

    “…push the limits of irresponsible behavior.” Oooh, scary! You mean they’re being … KIDS?!? For shame.

  55. Susan January 29, 2010 at 2:31 am #

    My mom went to a Catholic girls’ school in New Orleans in the 1940’s. They marched during recess. Maybe this school could try that.

  56. sylwilson January 29, 2010 at 2:35 am #

    No freetime means they will likely give mom and dad a hard time at home. Recess is a time for them to let off steam (in a kids way). That is so horrible to think the kids can’t even play tag. There are actually lessons kids learn during that game! Lordy!

  57. Ben January 29, 2010 at 3:15 am #

    Even if the principal was misrepresented, it’s still ridiculous. Recess is a time to relax so you’re fresh and focussed for the classes in the afternoon. Everyone needs such breaks — even adults. It simply keeps your attention from breaking into pieces.

    If you go meddle in kid’s affairs during recess, all you do is pile on the stress recess is designed to reduce.

  58. Thomas Stazyk January 29, 2010 at 3:17 am #

    Your blog is great! I’ve heard about tag being outlawed in various places because of selt esteem issues associated with being “it.” Duh!

    Although the administrators who establish idiotic rules are worthy of derision a lot of the fault lies with parents who beat up on administrators and teachers when their child is faced with the realities of life. I think the parents are the root cause and the schools are only the enablers.

  59. Katy January 29, 2010 at 3:22 am #

    We are having a challenge with my son’s school (he’s in second grade) because the teacher continues to keep him inside for recess as a punishment for either failure to finish work or talking out in class. We’ve tried addressing it with the teacher to no avail. I plan to go to the principal next because they are putting a huge focus on wellness and tracking physical activity (encouraging the kids to do at least 30 minutes per day of physical exercise) and it seems so out of line with that goal. So far though I have been told that revoking recess is one of the few options available for maintaining discipline in the classroom (!!!)

  60. lm2703 January 29, 2010 at 3:49 am #







  61. SKL January 29, 2010 at 4:06 am #

    What I’d really like to understand is: how do they think the increased structuring of recess is going to motivate kids to be more considerate of each other?

    I can absolutely understand calling kids out on rude or violent behavior on the playground. But from the perspective of learning, do kids learn consideration from being told what “to do” and what “not to do”? How do we get them invested in caring for others? By letting it be “their world.” Making recess about what the adults want motivates kids to test “what can I get away with.” Making it about what kids want motivates them to test “what can I accomplish,” both socially and otherwise. After all, kids naturally want to form friendships. We don’t have to tell them that’s what they should be doing – provided the environment isn’t too distorted by adult thinking.

  62. pentamom January 29, 2010 at 4:18 am #

    Sky, if that’s what she meant, that’s not quite so bad, but I still find it deeply troubling that someone in charge of education thinks that “freedom” is the problem, rather than abuse of freedom. Even if it’s just a language thing, the ability to use the word “free” like that indicates a weird concept of what freedom is. She should have said “we don’t want kids to think it’s okay to be irresponsible” or something like that, not “we don’t want them to think of it as free time.”

  63. shutterboo January 29, 2010 at 5:22 am #

    I always thought the point of recess was to let the kiddos stretch – because when its beautiful outside, the last thing they want to do is study grammar. We always started a game of kickball; exercise and strategy and teamwork all rolled in one.

  64. Catherine Scott January 29, 2010 at 6:45 am #

    @ Mae Mae – you might be interested to know that the research shows that kids fight LESS when there’s no adults around, for any number of reasons you could all probably figure, but including when there’s no adults about kids take more resposnbility for all sorts of stuff, including controlling their own behaviour.

  65. Catherine Scott January 29, 2010 at 6:48 am #

    @pentamom There was an interesting article in The Monitor on Psychology in Sept last year about the whole end to recess thing. One commentator speculated, and I am with her on this, that it comes from afear of ‘falling behind’ – individual kids might fall behind, the whole country might, so ban free time and devote every second to getting ahead. No play, just ramming kids’ head full of ‘factoids’.

  66. azizmoummou January 29, 2010 at 7:31 am #

    I shall ask,in a world of vices , where can a virtues stand?

    thank u,

  67. softballgirl78 January 29, 2010 at 8:02 am #

    Oh goodness. Children need “free time” during school. They have very short attention spans so they won’t absorb as much information if they are expected to learn all day without time to do what they do best…be kids!

  68. Stefani January 29, 2010 at 8:49 am #

    This is ubsurd! As I read this, I sat here remembering my days in middle school and how much everyone enjoyed the time to not have to think for 45 minutes of the day. If this principal thinks that forcing children to act more responsibly in an instance where they are needing time to take a breath of fresh air and BE a child, then she is seriously mistaken. I personally think this “idea” she has will backfire.

  69. Mike Chlanda January 29, 2010 at 9:09 am #

    I just found out my son’s elementary school, when they have a 2 hour snow/ice delay in the morning, cancels all recess since “the kids already had 2 hours off”. mike

  70. Michelle M. January 29, 2010 at 9:27 am #

    I think this is a ridiculous notion. It is a proven fact that children as well as adults need some time off of studying. Us, as human beings, need some time to absorb the material that is thrown at us for around eight hours a day.

  71. Randy January 29, 2010 at 11:24 am #

    I wonder what Piaget would say about not being able to observe kids engaging in free play, making up their own rules to games, etc.. My guess is that he would have said nothing at all, because nothing in the world is more boring (or depressing) than watching a grownup boss a bunch of kids around during some super-structured play-time event.

    Yeah, it might be great and healthy for kids to have some free time to do what they want, but it’s really the adults at this school who need to get a life.

  72. Heidi January 29, 2010 at 1:02 pm #

    Katy: Your comment really hit a nerve with me. So this is going to get long, sorry. I’m so sorry to hear that your child is having recess taken away from his as punishment – as a teacher, I never ever take away recess from a child for punishment. And it REALLY bothers me that there are teachers out there are so narrow minded on this subject. Taking away recess and free time is not the answer. Its counter productive to everything we are trying to achieve with our students. There are many other things to do instead of taking recess away. This might get long, but I want to give you a few things to take to your childs teacher for discussion on what to do instead of taking recess away. Let them know that an always very effective behavior “check” is having a good communication with parents and the school, and making connections between the two. If a child is acting out, not doing work, and being disruptive on a regular basis that can’t be handled by good effective classroom management (like allowing the child to get energy out when needed!) its always so easy to call the childs home to set up a meeting with the parents about the behavior in class. If the students know that they can’t get away with their behavior at school because there will also be repercussions at home (loss in T.V. time, etc., etc., or whatever the parents thought would be most effective), their classroom behavior always improved. For the really serious cases I would actually sit down with the parents and child and come up with a list of things that were really important to the kid at home, things they wanted (outside getting all their basic needs met of course!), and we’d come up with point values for how much each desired activity was (some students had “spending 30 minutes alone with mom at night” worth the most points because thats what they wanted the most. So heartbreaking.) , and then they would be able to accumulate points during the week by meeting behavioral goals in class. Then the sheet would be sent home daily to be signed by the parent so they knew where how their child did each day, and brought back daily, as there would be daily goals to meet and weekly goals to meet. Its the students whose parents are out to lunch and refuse do jack at home with the kids for having poor classroom behavior that were the worst trouble (well that, and because their parents didn’t give them attention so they had to try to get it from somewhere. . .) Then if there is no communication with home (which it doesn’t sound like it would be the case in your situation), there are always MANY other options available to teachers – and I’ve used all sorts. But NEVER taking recess away. Ever. That is just not an option. Actually what I find to work great is if a student gets particularly restless I send them right outside the classroom and I will stand in the door way keeping an eye on him/her so they can run around, do jumping jacks, etc. to get some energy out, and their blood flowing to their brain, and then when they come back in, they were always so much better and wiling/able to focus. We also stop and do kinesthetics periodically during the day too (in the classroom, things like jumping jacks and “pushing the wall” “touching your toes”) if we need to (and often we do) as an entire class. The kids love it. I love it. Other teachers may say that it takes away from their “learning time” but I find that if I don’t do things like that I can’t get them to learn what I need them to because they don’t have the brain power for it. Anyway, I digress. . .
    Not having recess be free time is THE stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, and if I worked for this principal he would be hearing quite a bit of an uproar from me. I don’t think that in good conscience I would be able to follow through with it.

  73. ervan January 29, 2010 at 2:19 pm #

    dear all
    i’a sorry if my ingglish is not verry well
    i’m on learning communication english.
    kid’s is a unic person, they has all integensi about multiple integensia, so they has different character, the diferrent character in kid’s make they need a free time to play or study anythink.

  74. Ralph January 29, 2010 at 6:55 pm #

    Not sure if this has been posted yet, but I would highlight the entrepeneurial spirit of American history, the stories of young men and women (14 years of age in some cases) who went out there and made lives for themselves, in some cases even becoming quite wealthy and influential in the process.

    Emphasize the idea of American independence and how we take pride in our own ability to creatively solve problems and work towards a variety of goals with an independent spirit, one that functions best when unfettered. Maybe toss in an allusion to an “article” you were reading recently about how eerily similar policies like these are to schools in, say, Afghanistan, but don’t quite call her a terrorist (well…I’ll leave that up to your discrection).

    Then, if all else fails, shrug ruefully and mutter something about how they “can’t all be leaders, someone needs to be the sheep for my kids to control when they grow up” and see if that has an effect. It probably won’t but it might be cathartic.

    Finally, take my advice with a grain of salt. I’m probably a bit too blunt for this kind of thing.

  75. sittingpugs January 29, 2010 at 9:18 pm #

    If kids can’t run around like their pants are on fire, whether or not they’ve just been found out about lying, during recess, they’ll just take that restless energy and put it some place that does not deserve it.

    And yet, recess ought to be a time when the children (of a self-discerning and aware age) can choose how they should like to spend it. If they want to read or do homework or play dodge ball or walk laps around the track or sit there like a rock on a bench and stare into space, then let them. So long as they aren’t physically abusing each other (the verbal abuse won’t end until …ever really).

  76. Ann January 30, 2010 at 1:35 am #

    Google Scholar is a wonderful thing for parents!

    We had a problem at our kids’ school with retention (red-shirting), mostly of young boys, and often for stupid reasons.

    In response, we didn’t just get mad, we got online and pulled up about 50 journal articles that supported our side of the argument–the evidence was overwhelmingly on our side. By the time we were done, the head teacher in the offending grades, the head of the school, and the assistant head of school had all read our stack–as well as a number of other concerned parents.

    Within a year, the practice had mostly stopped, and kids were being promoted properly.

    The lesson is simple: don’t just get mad–do the research!

  77. JoAnn Fisher January 30, 2010 at 7:30 am #

    In honor of FreeRange today at the christian school that my two boys attend and that I work in the library, dismissal and RECESS duty, I allowed the 4th, 5ht & 6th graders to play DODGEBALL with appopriate balls today. THEY LOVED IT!!!!!!!! The principle loved it. For the most part almost every child participated and for those that were a little nit picky about rules I asked them to just relax and enjoy.

  78. owen59 January 31, 2010 at 8:58 am #

    I’m a bit behind on your news, but this one caught my eye so I had to, eventually respond. I am continually surprised that professional educators can often miss the point of education and learning. Thus we try to institutionalise and segregate our children from society until they (not us) are worthy of the adult mantle. So our ‘prophecy’ that children can’t think and understand until they are adult, is often fulfilled. Those people who have accepted their own institutionalisation go on to become the teachers and principals of the next generation of segregated institutions, compounding the tightening of the experience of learning in dangerous layers of ‘safety’ and ritualised living.
    In theory and in practice, nothing can be further from necessity. Children do need to spend the majority of their life in social learning situation. They need to have conflict and their adult mentors need to guide them to managing their emotions and resolving conflicts, and designing creative solutions. They need to have joy and they need to learn that sometimes they will need to be the supportive person in life, offering joy and strength when others are in crisis. But without exposure to crisis or hardship, there is no learning. They need to learn that working in groups is difficult, conflictual, sometimes despairing, but almost always rewarding, whether at sport or academy or changing the world. They need to learn that they, although social creatures, must strive to be independent in body and mind, and that each day they must choose whether to do something themselves or participate in a group action.
    Yet without an appropriate pedagogical vision, our children are often left with inappropriate teachers and rules. Many will learn only how to mimic this narrow mindset, and thus our future is set. ‘O Brave New World’.

  79. Gory Surgery Games February 1, 2010 at 7:02 am #

    Seriously? This is what schools spend their time doing? Things that don’t concern them? When I go on a break at work I’m not told that I have to be productive or anything like that, so why should kids?

    School is meant to prepare them for life! Not show them what a dictatorship looks like in communist Countrys.

  80. car review September 9, 2010 at 5:19 pm #

    How will ANYTHING new be invented if we stick to ‘teachable moments’. Education isn’t just about learning what’s known, it’s about learning about what is yet to be known.


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