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May 26th, 2010 by Dr. Phil

Playtime is Over?

recess1The other day, when I happened to read that more and more schools around the country are hiring “recess coaches” to work with students during recess, I took a deep sigh and thought, “Seriously? We’re now telling kids what to do at recess — the one period in the school day when they are supposed to have unstructured free time?”

Oh, but hold on, retort a growing number of educators. Childhood, they point out, is a lot different today than it used to be. The vast majority of American children ages 6 to 11 now spend more than 28 hours a week using computers, cell phones, televisions and other electronic devices. A lot of these kids have no idea know what to do when you tell them to “go out and play.” 

And so, the educators claim, it’s actually very smart to hire recess coaches who force all the kids to play organized games. Some elementary schools have gone so far as to replace recess with a “fitness” course. A California-based nonprofit organization called Playworks has now placed recess coaches in 170 schools in nine cities, including Boston, Washington, Los Angeles and the Silicon Valley.

OK, I know I’m an old fogey. In my childhood, when we played kick ball at recess, we used an old Buick in front of Old Lady Jerkin’s house as our home plate. There were no gigs of memory, no schedule and no field. There was no coach out there telling us exactly how to play the games. We had to learn to choose teams, make the rules, follow them and settle disputes along the way. We had to learn how to entertain ourselves. Isn’t that precisely what we want our own kids to learn to do, too?

Playworks believes their coaches stop bullying and other behavioral problems on the playgrounds, allowing more kids to have more fun. Well, I’m all for supervision that gets rid of the bullying. And if the coaches are making sure the kids just don’t stand around and use their cell phones to text friends or play video games, I’m all for that too. I appreciate that their intentions are positive, it’s the overall concept that I’m struggling with.

Do we want to turn recess into another gym class? Isn’t it a no-brainer to give kids a break during the school day, giving them time to let their imaginations roam, letting them do what they choose to do?

What do you think? Do you think regimented recess is the right way to go? Or do kids have the right to goof off for one period out on the playground? How important is it to push kids to learn that a lot of good old-fashioned fun can be had without iPods—enough to force them to play other kinds of games, whether they want to or not?

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57 Responses to “Playtime is Over?”

  1. Justine says:

    A lot of the kid games were learned at camp in the summertime. Then at home, the neighborhood children would hang on the street and organize games to play. Today, children are not encouraged to go out and hang on the streets…..because of the dangers, whatever they may be. And gym class in the elementary schools should be teaching the kids organized games to play as well as camps. If they change recess to a structured activity, then they need to change the title of it because it would NOT be recess.

  2. Donna E. Starr says:

    Not so fast!!! Our grandson has asperger’s and has social interaction issues even though he is a very bright student. It shows up more so on the playground when he wants to interact with other kids. A playground helper is needed for this. And folks there is much more of these types of problems out their now than one realizes. It’s not like it used to be when we were kids.

  3. Neva says:

    The kids need a break – without structured play. If 2 kids want to shoot hoops fine – if 12 kids want to play kickball fine – if 2 kids want to swing etc. etc. This is also time where kids can talk to each other without feeling like they have to live up to a teachers expectation. Kids also need these recess breaks before the last 10 minutes of school being let out like I have seen at a local school. What’s the point when they get to go home in 10 minutes – they need that break halfway between lunch and dismissal time.

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  5. Roby says:

    So true. Honetsy and everything recognized.

  6. Cey says:

    Unfortunately whoever messages the program to you gave you the wrong impression. Playworks is not about “structuring” recess to the point that students are told what to do and where to do it. These “recess coaches” go into the schools and show the children how to play games so that 1. There is less time spent arguing over which rules are “correct” 2. All of the children feel included so that there are less of them growing up with “last kid picked” syndrome 3. The students have a plethora of CHOICES when they come out to the playground. Furthermore what’s not mentioned in this article are the other aspects of the program like teaching children conflict resolution and leadership development.

  7. Ronette says:

    I work as a teacher at a school with Playworks and am disappointed this article was clearly written with out any, or very little information on the subject. Back in your day Dr. Phil, children learned how to play games with other by actual experience & parental guidance. At my school, some students only opportunity to learn lay skills is at school by a Playworks coach. These skills are learned while playing, not in a classroom, video games or unsupervised time after school many of these children have. Add to that, the play/social skills of some of their role models leave much to be desired, “If he hit you, you go and hit him back” (advice I’ve heard given to 3 year old kids). I only wish every school with high risk populations had Playworks. We would all be better off someday.

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