Playtime is Over?
The 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?