Let’s recess for… recess

Julia Steiny  has an excellent column up this week lamenting the modern loss of recess, and running over some of the major arguments in favor of having regular breaks for play and other unstructured activities.  She also talks about two groups (Peaceful Playgrounds and Let Children Play) pushing for a “right” to recess.

I’m always skeptical of couching things like this in the language of rights, but as a practice recess seems like sort of a no-brainer to me.


  1. I was quite surprised to hear about the ‘modern loss of recess’. As a parent, I recently observed how much class time is dedicated to organizational/non-instructional purposes – so I can understand the logic behind the decision to try to maximize the time given. However, it does seem to be a no-brainer to me as well that children need a real break during which they can mentally escape the four walls of the classroom and let off steam. It seems logical that children are better able to concentrate when they have been given this opportunity.

  2. From the article:

    Schools’ fear of liability is real. Americans sue like it was a career option. Fine, create a liability waiver and let the crazy helicopter parents refuse to sign it.

    hahahahaha. Do you ever read these things all the way through before you link them?


    “Hi. If you want to have recess, sign here, absolving us of all responsibility for your kid.”

    What, you didn’t mean all responsibility? Oh. Then how much, exactly?

    • Michael E. Lopez says:

      I don’t expect you to know how to draft a waiver, Cal, but I might expect you to think that maybe attorneys know how to create the sorts of agreements that people might want or need to engage in certain activities. It happens all the time.

      It would actually be pretty easy to protect a school against the sorts of claims that they’re worried about. And with public schools, it could be accomplished extra-contractually by statutes if there was enough desire for it. (Though you could expect ATLA — now renamed AAJ — to fight it.)

      • Supersub says:

        The problem with waivers is that they do not protect against negligence… and negligence has an ever shifting practical definition based upon the judge and/or jury in a case.

        • Michael E. Lopez says:

          The problem with waivers is that they do not protect against negligence…

          This is so utterly false I’m thinking that you must have misspoken.

          Take two?

          • SuperSub says:

            Well, specifically gross negligence. Yet, whether the details of a specific case meet ordinary vs gross negligence are determined by the judge’s instructions to the jury and how the jury interprets them with regards to the case.

  3. Steiny’s article is not about recess. I’ve read her shallow commentary for years. One could make the argument that many K-6 schools are defined as all-day inside recess.

    “But most worrisome is the way testing and accountability have become a national insanity. Testing is fine; I love data. But education bureaucracies seem to have forgotten that those are humans on their assembly lines. Both frightened teachers and kids are getting their creative life-blood squeezed out of them.”

    No. She doesn’t like testing. She likes to claim an independent position somewhere in the middle, but it’s clearly on the anti-testing side. She pulls this example out to try and indicate that the problem is testing, not the fact that many K-6 schools don’t ensure any kind of mastery of the basics. It apparently doesn’t bother her that bright kids get to 5th grade without knowing the times table. I’ve had a few interesting email exchanges with her in the past.

    Then she throws out this quote by Rosker:

    “I made this game, story, picture. We’re not going to create truly creative people who can drive us forward as a culture, you know, like Steve Jobs. We have a unique culture of innovation. We should be leading in education, doing a great job with our kids.”

    Now we’re getting to the heart of what Steiny and many others believe; that there is a conflict between rigor and creativity, and that creativity is the heart of what is special about the US. This is wrong. Creativity and ideas are cheap. Creativity does not drive rigor. Rigor does not preclude creativity. I get ideas all of the time. It’s not creativity that is a driving force in the US. It’s the ability and willingness to take risks. It’s the technical competence to turn those ideas into reality. What we need are more Wozniaks than Jobs. Where would Jobs have been if Next failed? He would be nowhere with a bunch of ideas. The problem is that people know who Jobs is and not Wozniak.

    How about all of those other great ideas that failed becasue they weren’t feasible. This creativity meme is now being used as a justification for low rigor K-8 US education philosophies – less rigor means more creativity – less drill and kill means more time for understanding and problem solving. What this philosophy does is to filter out the lower SES kids, who don’t get the rigor at home, into career paths that have little to do with either creative or technical control.

    The school she refers to might be a special (weird) case, but we never know it from the article. There might be many of these schools. Steiny, however, uses the school only to push her own philosophy of education. The affluent can ignore these ideas. The poor cannot.

    • Michael E. Lopez says:

      Yeah, I’m not usually a fan of Steiny, myself. I thought there were some good ideas expressed in this column, though, and I try to be fair-minded enough to give credit even to writers I don’t normally appreciate.

      I think you’re being a little over-critical of the column itself, but perhaps because you are (not at all improperly, mind you) putting the column in the context of a larger body of work/educational philosophy that has serious systemic flaws.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      What this philosophy does is to filter out the lower SES kids, who don’t get the rigor at home, into career paths that have little to do with either creative or technical control.

      If I were a Marxist, I would say that people with “this philosophy” (who generally think they are on the left) are objectvely helping to create an the inter-generational reproduction of hierarchy. They are keeping poor kids poor and maintaining their own superior socio-economic status.

    • Thanks for the clarificaton; I was not familiar with her background. Even without it, the false dichotomy of rigor vs. creativity is apparent. Creativity seems to be used today as an excuse for not demanding mastery of anything.

  4. When my older kids were in ES, in the mid-80s, the 3-6 classrooms opened directly to the playground. I remember teachers telling figetty kids (almost all boys), to take two laps (unsupervised, except for teacher looking out the window) to take x laps around the area, then come in and sit. It worked, too. My sons were extremely high-energy (travel soccer and running 10k races by 7) and almost always finished their work early, so they then looked for something to do; wandering around and distracting still-working classmates was one option. The school did have recess regularly, too. Unfortunately, normal boy behavior is now too often seen as abnormal, requiring medication. Most boys are different from most girls (my daughter was like her brothers) and schools need to acknowledge and accommodate this. My old-maid ES teachers and my husband’s ES nuns (neither group had college degrees) understood and handled boys – and girls – very well. What has happened since then?

    • Supersub says:

      New teachers in regimented teaching programs got caught up in the theoretical models of how children learn and behave as opposed to listening to thousands of years of wisdom given to them by their parents.

  5. George Larson says:

    Where would Jobs have been if Next failed?

    By my way of thinking Next did fail.

    “…developed and manufactured a series of computer workstations intended for the higher education and business markets….
    Sales of the NeXT computers were relatively limited, with estimates of about 50,000 units shipped in total. ”

    It was never dissolved in bankruptcy. It was purchased by Apple

    • Let me put it this way. It didn’t fail Jobs. It gave him the money and power to be creative.