I was sitting with my coworkers during lunch, and as usual a couple of ladies who work as cafeteria/recess aides were eating beside us. As the aides were talking to each other one of them mentioned something about “walk and talk time.” It caught my attention since I’d noticed that everyday as I leave work and pass the playground area to head to my car, several of the kids are walking in pairs, in a loop approximately 60 yards around, over and over again. I asked, “Is that what I see the kids doing everyday around two when we leave?”
When she answered “yes,” I asked “what is that about?”
“The kids who aren’t wearing appropriate footwear have to “walk the loop.”
“I guess that’s to discourage running around in flip flops?” I asked.
“Oh, well there’s no ‘running around’ at all. We started ‘structured recess’ this year. There are four activites. Kids who don’t want to do one of the other three activities walk the loop, too. When the kids go outside, they get to choose their activity, but once they choose, that’s it. There’s no switching around.”
I was so immediately disgusted that I didn’t even think to ask what the other activities were before I spoke. (Although, I remember seeing a few kids playing 4 square one day). These were the recess aides after all, so I should have thought before I opened my opinionated mouth, but I didn’t.
“Oh—I would SOOOO be pitching a fit to the principal if I had a kid going here.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Structured recess? They’re kids. Little kids. A bunch of five- to ten-year-olds who have to sit still for six hours. Their whole day is structured, from the time they get here to the second they go home. Even lunch is structured. They have to sit at a certain table, they’re not allowed to talk to anyone except the kids right next to them or across from them. They can’t even get up to throw away their napkin without asking permission first. For six hours it’s “sit still,” “pay attention,” “focus,” “concentrate,” “stop talking.” Recess is suppose to be their break from all the structure. It’s their chance to run and play or just sit in the grass and look at the clouds or talk with a friend, and now they can’t even do that during recess? They have to choose one of three specific structured activities that someone else planned, they can’t switch to a different one, or they “walk the loop”? I would SOO be throwing a fit over this.”
The other woman said, “Well, the kids didn’t like it at first, but they’ve gotten use to it.”
At this point, I noticed the expression on the first woman’s face and could tell she didn’t like what I’d said one little bit. So, I didn’t say what I wanted to say, which was “Yeah, and kids ‘get use’ to being physically and sexually abused too. Just because they get use to it doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.” Instead, I said, “I understand the reasoning behind it. Structured recess makes it easier for the adults. Each adult has their little group of kids, they’re all in one spot and you can watch them easier. I just believe that kids really need that time to run and play and be free to explore.”
Then the women who was clearly unhappy with me said, “Well, I’d like to see you out there with all those kids just running around.”
“I have. I’ve done it many times.”
I worked in daycare for three years. I also taught pre-K in a private school and was a substitute teacher for K-8. I’ve done recess hundreds of times with anywhere between 50-75 kids under my watch, usually with only one other adult around.
I came home and got on the school website to see what their policy was regarding recess. Look what I found on the district page—it’s a district adopted policy. Note what it says about the importance of unstructured free play, specifically.