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Sometimes Our Side Wins! Houston Parents Push Schools to Bring Back Recess

Seems like there are big changes underway in about a third of Houston’s public schools. The particular change that play activist Rusty Keeler brought to our attention involves what many of us remember as the best part of the school day — and maybe our childhoods.


Wait — what?

When the parents who run the advocacy group “Free Play Houston” looked at the curriculum for the upcoming school year at 85 of Houston’s approximately 300 schools, they were shocked to find something missing: Recess for the 5th graders.

The group campaigned to get it reinstated — and it worked! Recess was restored!

Two of the leaders of the group, Sabali Mpozi and Jill Wood, were invited on Houston’s Fox 26 morning show to talk about why this issue mattered so much. (Co-founders Brooke Longoria and Brett Sillers cheered from the sidelines.)

Recess is so special — and so different from the rest of the school day — because it’s the one time when KIDS decide what they’re going to do, said Wood. She considers it “cross-training” for child development. Free play builds kids’ social-emotional skills. And their brains get wired. And their bodies get a work-out.

What recess got replaced with:

But instead of free play, fifth grade recess had been replaced by something called a “dyad.”

The morning show hosts wondered what that was.

We’re not exactly sure, Sabali replied. “We were told there’s going to be spin classes, dance, karate…which are still probably fun for children.” But unlike recess, she said, all those activities would be run adults. “It not, ‘Let’s play tag!’”

Let Grow co-founder Peter Gray says that free play is entirely different from adult-directed play because when adults are with kids, the adults are the adults and the kids are kids. It’s only when adults AREN’T running things that the kids BECOME the adults — that is, the capable, creative people in charge of themselves, and making something happen.

What kids can only get from free play:

“The things that children learn through their own initiatives in free play cannot be taught in other ways,” Gray has long said. That includes learning how to “solve their own problems, control their impulses, modulate their emotions from others perspectives, negotiate differences, get along with others as equals.”

In addition to bringing back recess for the fifth graders, Free Play Houston also convinced the schools not to divide the 30 minutes of kindergarten recess into two 15-minute chunks. Because everyone knows that 4 or 5 minutes of any recess is devoted to getting the kids out and back in.

Two great wins. All hail Free Play Houston! May their success inspire us all!

2 Responses to Sometimes Our Side Wins! Houston Parents Push Schools to Bring Back Recess

  1. Mark Farrelly August 29, 2023 at 3:35 pm #

    Wonderful news… keep fighting the good fight Lenore!!! More power to you.

    And I LOVE THIS!!!
    Fighting the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.

    Particularly the dangers of non-organic grapes.

  2. Joel Merzetti August 29, 2023 at 5:07 pm #

    Excuse my sarcasm, please, but it seems so often now adults (in charge of kids’ school days) have left the planet.

    We are currently experiencing a practical epidemic in childhood obesity.
    One half diet related. The other half, of course, exercise.

    Exercise used to be a thing that was more natural to a kid than rain at 4pm daily during an Amazon River heatwave.
    Not so much anymore.

    And even a good argument that this adult-fangled “dyad” was somehow exertion-worthy? (Adult supervised, of course.)
    I can tell you.

    A real genuine honest recess produced about 10 thousand more calories burnt from go for broke exercise, than any adult organized cutesy pootsy reinvention of what is supposed to be physically good for a kid.
    You know it.
    Kids unleashed are a force in the Universe. I remember.

    And lastly. Recess was indeed, a time when kids got away from adult meddling. Just that. How healthy. I recall a time when the odd teacher might casually glance out a school window.
    But it was a given.
    You go out there and do your thing without the snitching and the sniveling and the bullying and whatever else, otherwise we’ll take away your beloved adult-free 15 minutes.
    Worked like a charm. At least 98% compliance.
    Us kids knew what side our bread was buttered on.
    And same thing for lunch breaks.

    Really, teachers and administrators and other aiders and abettors…
    The kids aren’t going to become instant teacher haters because they’ve sprung loose from your exalted selves for maybe a total of 40 minutes in a school day.
    Or maybe they will. So deal with it.
    You can’t dump that wet blanket of control on them forever.