Oct 252012
This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Gimme A Break

Fields and playgrounds behind the North Middle School

Fields and playgrounds behind the North Middle School. Photo by Caroline Poser.

Did you know that the older grades at Groton-Dunstable Regional Middle School (GDRMS) do not have outdoor recess? I didn”t – until football carpool during the first week of school, when my 7th grade son informed me that instead of outdoor recess, his class gets 20 minutes of sustained silent reading. This comment sparked some lively car talk among the four boys on the way to practice.

According to my middle-school-aged sons, “5th graders get 25 whole minutes” and “You get anywhere from one minute to 11 minutes in 6th grade, unless you have to stay in to make up work.” My 6th grader announced that he had to miss recess for the first time ever to finish typing something one day. Since then he has had to miss recess for telling a classmate how to spell something (disrupting the class) and for forgetting to have a test signed.

According to a parenting section on website “Need to Know”, one of the more debated educational issues right now is whether or not there should be middle school recess. While one side points to the rising obesity rate among today’s youth, the other side points to the fact that our educational system lags behind many other countries.

I talked to a few of my mom-friends informally, and got feedback from another mom with two boys in middle school: “It”s (recess is) too short for the 6th graders and not enough to do and with too many rules. Seventh grade needs a recess, especially when neither grade does not have Phys. Ed. that is cardio / physical all year.” Our boys will spend 2/3 of one half the year in the gym. The rest of this block is classroom (wellness), art, and drama.

Another mom commented, “As a parent of a daughter entering 7th grade next year, the thought of no regular outside time during the school day is disappointing. It is important to impart the notion of balance between work and relaxation. Why should this stop in 7th grade when habits are being ingrained? Even a short break in their hectic day would be beneficial to their bodies, minds, and overall well-being. Go recess!”

A third mom pointed out, “I don’t think we had ‘recess” in 7th and 8th grade or high school. However, we also had gym class year round and therefore we had physical exercise at least a few times a week all year – and during the good days, this was outside.”

I had a light-bulb moment when I heard that. I recalled that I didn”t have recess after 6th grade either. I could no longer be outraged.

However, if your kids don”t have recess and are not participating in organized sports, are they getting enough physical exercise? The recommended daily amount is 60 minutes. Besides not having year-round gym class, another thing that has changed since my childhood – in addition to the fact that kids who lived within a mile from my school were not bused: there were quite a few of us who walked – is kids going outside to play after school. I didn”t participate in organized sports until 8th grade, but did have ample time for outdoor, unstructured until-the-streetlights-come-on play. Today, kids running around outside unsupervised is not only frowned upon, but also supposedly a crime, in the case of Tammy Cooper, a Texas mom who was arrested (and jailed) for child endangerment when a neighbor called the police after seeing Ms. Cooper”s kids riding their scooters “unsupervised” in the neighborhood cul-de-sac (though Ms. Cooper said she was watching them from her yard). If kids don”t learn how to play together on their own when they”re younger, how can you expect them to be able to when they”re 11, 12, and 13? We need something between complete supervision and “Lord of the Flies,” which is why some schools have hired recess coaches.

Never mind the obesity epidemic among kids, or unstructured play time for which the school is not necessarily responsible; I still think kids need a physical break during the day.

“Though my daughter hasn”t complained about the 20 minutes of reading, I do think kids need fresh air, a chance to clear their heads,” is the feedback I heard from yet another mom of a 7th grade girl.

As a mom of three boys, I see how my sons need to get up and move their bodies and burn off some energy before they can sit still and focus. I have thus communicated with my 6th grader”s teachers that I do not support his missing recess as a consequence for typing too slowly (he can finish at home), helping his friend with spelling (he will gladly accept another consequence for being “disruptive”), or forgetting to get an A- test signed (send an email home; I”ll be sure the test is signed and dole out the consequence).

I was all set to write a scathing expose about how unfair it is that kids don”t have recess throughout middle school, but in turn, it would be unfair to write anything without considering other perspectives.

Stay tuned for my follow up article where I share some enlightening feedback from school authorities.

Series NavigationGimme a break! What Ever Happened to Recess? >>