A Motion to Recess

Posted on April 26, 2012 by


Probably not many people have heard of Amos Bronson Alcott, though many will likely recognize his daughter Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women.  I for one, had never heard of him until I began giving some thought to a passage in a recent post.  Alcott was an educator and a philosopher in the early 1800s in Boston, Massachusetts.  Though radical at the time, the concepts that Alcott developed are in line with the current Western education standards the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia strives to achieve.  Teaching by encouragement, art education, experiential learning, and tolerance in schools are clearly on the agenda for MES and have already begun to take hold in schools throughout Georgia thanks to TLG and the other educational reforms being enacted.  One of Alcott’s important concepts that has gotten precious little attention thus far is the idea of physical education/recess.  Much more time needs to be devoted to reforming the current system of physical education and breaks between classes at school.

Parliamentary procedural puns aside, recess is a crucial part of a child’s social and intellectual development.  This is hardly up for debate, however.  Georgian school children do get lots of unstructured playtime: between classes in the halls!  What they need, in fact, is a more structured environment for recreation.

When I was a kid growing up in Maine, we had regular, supervised unstructured breaks every day at school.  First we had morning recess, followed by lunch recess and, at the end of the day, bus recess.  These were not only opportunities for us to socialize and be creative in our own ways, but they enabled us to blow off steam and release all of our pent up energy.

The current structure of many Georgian school schedules does not properly allow for breaks.  Students have forty-five minute classes followed by short, five to ten minute breaks, with no time allocated for recess or lunch.  This kind of schedule does not provide ample time for imagination, socialization, or eating.  By implementing periodic breaks and lunch time, many of the behavioral and disciplinary challenges in the classroom would melt away.  Students would have a chance to play and to chat outside of the classroom, mitigating a lot of the need to do so during class.  The issue of students running in the halls would dissipate as they could run outside instead!

Regular recess would also positively impact the physical education system in Georgia.  Last year I would often spot my English students out at P.E.  Most of the boys would be energetically playing soccer and most of the girls were standing in the shade of the pines chatting away.  The gym teachers monitored both groups from the sidelines.  What I realized is that the students were making time for recess.  Physical education became recess as students freely engaged in the fun activities of their choice.  If breaks or recess were implemented in Georgia, P.E. would be freed up for actual physicaleducation.  Rather than loosing students on the field and watching them play, gym teachers could develop curricula to teach sports, fitness, and health activities.

Obviously the implementation of recess and the development of more robust physical education curricula are two major undertakings.  Neither is an overnight change, but both are overdue.  Creating time in the schedule for children to socialize, play, and eat lunch will open the door to bigger and better things.  Hungry wound-up students cannot learn as effectively and students who learn true physical education will likely lead healthier lifestyles and make smarter choices about their bodies as they continue to grow.

Building playtime into the daily schedule is important “not just because it should be fun to be a child but because denying youth’s unfettered joys keeps kids from developing into inquisitive, creative creatures…” (From this Scientific American article).  Even 180 years ago education reformers like Alcott recognized the importance of recess in elementary development.  If Georgia wants to seriously embrace education reforms it also needs to shift away from the current scholastic schedule and incorporate unstructured free time into the daily schedule.  Just like painters and cinematographers make use of negative space, educators must make use of the space between spaces–break times–if they want to most successfully develop their little boys and little girls into little men and Little Women.