In defense of running amok


I had a very happy childhood. This means my hope of ever writing a really great “tell all” book is probably not going to happen. Publishers just don’t seem to be looking for Fifty Shades of How My Life Was Like a Norman Rockwell Painting.

I grew up in a middle-sized city with a small town feel, played on the local playground that I accessed via picturesque tree-lined streets. I had benefit of the best education tax dollars could buy. The taxpayers said “yes” to every levy and provided us with all the finest things. My high school had a swimming pool and an ice hockey team (yes, really). We were the children of a town and age that adored and supported education.

Time for recess

Yet, when I compare my early education to that of my children in a small rural school (which we love), I don’t find that I miss the “extras.” Our school has no indoor swimming pool, no ice hockey team, nor field hockey team. They do have tractor day. I like tractor day.

They have amazing athletics at the high school level, music programs, language and so much more. They are not lacking for testing and this community certainly supports education. If there is one thing think my kids — and so many other “kids these days” miss out on, it is something that money can’t necessarily buy. It is recess.

In my school days back when dinosaurs — and bell bottoms — roamed the earth, I remember having recess three times per day. On really nice or particularly challenging days, favorite teachers would take us all outside again a fourth time.

I still remember sitting on the front lawn of our elementary school being taught art by the angles of neighborhood roofs and patterns of leaves in the trees. I never grew up to be a great artist, but that wasn’t for lack of my teacher trying. I can’t imagine she would have had any better luck had she kept us cooped up in a classroom or tested us on art theory ad nauseam.

When we grew restless, they pushed us outside to the pavement and pump swings to run, jump, dream and try not to crack our skulls. Properly winded and more than a little sweaty, we were tucked back into our desks for film strips and lessons. I recall even our most energetic classmates seemed better equipped to wind down and focus.

On particularly bitter or wet days, we still had “indoor recess.” Recess was never skipped. Its existence was as inviolate as lunch. Indoor recess gave us the freedom to move around, daydream, chatter and play “Seven Up.” Do students even play that game today?

While recess three times daily ended after sixth grade, we still had lunchtime recess through 8th grade. The sporty channelled their aggression into playing football or volleyball after lunch. Others mingled, socialized, and planned our weddings to pop stars of the day (I had designs on being Mrs. Rick Springfield).

Kids need to move

When it comes to child’s play, don’t we often say “I wish I had their energy?” It’s common sense that children need to move. I have photos of Boywonder at a very young age, playing quietly and quite intently with his imagination and his action figures, all while flipped upside down with his feet in the air.

When it comes to young children, I don’t think they are trying to be “bad” when they get wiggly. I truly believe they need to move.

My children had one recess (lunch) in kindergarten through fourth grade. I was just a library, lunch and playground volunteer, but some kids just vibrated with energy. To hold them inside for seven hours straight was akin to trying to put lightning in a bottle. Others, more introverted, sometimes seemed to just need time to daydream, stare at a cloud, or just turn inward for a moment.

Behavior connection?

I honestly have yet to meet a child who didn’t benefit from recess. I honestly believe some behavior problems in young students stem from taking away recess or limiting it to little more than 10 minutes post lunch.

I’m a lazy adult and, honestly, I spent a day visiting middle school a few years ago and the endless institutionalization of being told I was basically captive in 40-minute increments made me want to jump out of a window, or my own skin.
Add to this having to negotiate even basic bathroom privileges and I do wonder if prisoners aren’t sometimes treated better? I know they have more “yard time.”

I recently heard the opinion that in today’s pressing world of education, there simply isn’t time to let students run amok. I fear that if we don’t make time for running amok, that is precisely what students will do.

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