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In Defense of Recess


Q. What's up with schools taking all the fun out of child's play? They're banning traditional kids' games at recess, and getting rid of all semblance of anything that even hints of competition. There can't be that big of a threat of lawsuits, can there?


A number of grade schools around the country have banned certain games like tag and dodgeball, or done away with one or two recesses altogether during the school day, citing increasing conflicts, arguments and accidents among children, officials said.


But those who support keeping recess free of excess regulations say that a playground that's out of control signifies a lack of effective and adequate adult supervision. They defend recess and say it's crucial for student success and normal childhood development.


Since only a handful of states require schools to give children a break from their studies, the changes to recess are a matter of local control. Prents and taxpayers have been active in letting local principals and superintendents know how they feel about restrictions on free play. However, it is commonplace for schools to carve minutes away from recess, or reducing them from two to one, citing the need to prepare students better for the standardized tests that the educational bureaucracies have imposed on schools.


Conn Iggulden, co-author of The Dangerous Book for Boys, said boys, especially, need recess. It helps them learn about risk, how to pick yourself up when you've fallen down, how to deal with someone who's trying to get you mad, and so forth. If they don't learn to take safe risks while under supervision, they will doubtlessly take unsafe risks when no adults are around, he warned. Iggulden told, "If we do away with challenging playgrounds and cancel school trips for fear of being sued, we don't end up with safer boys we end up with them walking on train tracks."


But that doesn't stop the Politically Correct crowd from dumbing-down recess. In Montville, Conn., children at Oakdale School lost their 22 minutes of unstructured daily play at their own choice. Instead, children are limited to a few acceptable activities. They can jump rope, play with Hula Hoops or gently fling a Frisbee. They can pick up litter around the school grounds. They can play chess on rainy days. Balls are parceled out under close supervision by playground monitors. The changes were so unpopular with parents that they marched on the principal, and now, twice a week, if a parent or grandparent volunteers to monitor it, the kids can play a modified version of kickball. Note that no score may be kept, since school officials deem that provocative and dangerous.


Sigh. It's yet another example of the control-freak attitude among some educators that is taking a lot of the fun and play out of schools. It's at cross-purposes with the big push in schools to instill social skills in children; at recess, they can "learn by doing" everything from fair play to how to respond successfully to bullying. It also makes no sense to minimize or kill recess in the face of the obesity epidemic among children that everyone's concerned about.


Other examples of changes:

         Tag is banned at recess at Discovery Canyon Campus in Colorado Springs because it was too "wild," and at least a few parents had complained, though many more opposed the ban at the prek-6 school, according to news reports.

         In Broward County, Fla., one of the nation's largest school systems, to comply with expanded physical education requirements that the state mandated but did not provide extra money for, recess time is being taken over by structured, phys ed type activities.


         In Wyckoff, N.J., recess is now a "midday fitness" class, replacing the gym requirement to free up more academic "seat time."



Homework: A national campaign has formed, Rescuing Recess, sponsored by such organizations as the Cartoon Network, the National Parent Teacher Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Education Association. Also see the book, Bringing Up Boys, by Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family,


By Susan Darst Williams Controversies 01 2008



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