19 Apr Rethinking Recess
The topic of recess coaches has come up several times recently in the news, and as a company that provides commercial playground equipment, recess time is prime-time for Dynamo.
Personally, I remember back to my school days when we would play imagination-inspired games on the play structure, or self-led games like tag, jump rope, wall-ball or the Canadian standard: hockey in the adjacent open space or a blocked-off section of the parking lot. There were no coaches then, just a teacher or two, keeping an eye on us as we played. I also think to just a few weeks back, when my 3-year-old son came outside while I was cooking dinner and played happily by himself for half an hour with nothing more than some sand, a bucket, a shovel and a few cars; oh – and his 3-year-old imagination!
These experiences seem the complete opposite of the impetus behind recess coaches. While I can see a benefit of them ensuring inclusion of all the kids versus the potential for children to remain sedentary through recess, it seems counter-intuitive to take the time which is provided for children to get some recreation and a pause from active learning for their brains to recharge and replace it with structured, organized time. How often do we talk about “sleeping on it” by which we mean that we let our brains work on a problem without actively focussing on it? Children have the same need for the unstructured time for their brains to work passively and assimilate the information. Experts from many different fields all conclude the same thing: children who have ample opportunity for unstructured play will more likely develop into happy, well-adjusted adults than children who do not experience unstructured play. In essence, children learn how to interact with others, how to solve problems, how to be creative, how to lead (and follow), how to deal with stress and so much more, all through unstructured play. What a shame to replace this excellent developmental opportunity with more of the same structure and rigid rules we have built into our never-disconnected adults lives!
With more and more people advocating recess – for children and adults – to get them the activity and downtime they need to stay healthy and be effective, perhaps the solution isn’t to coach recess, but to provide opportunities for the children to utilize their imaginations and engage in interactive play. If we give them a chance to be kids, free from adult-led structure, we will help them develop the creative, problem-solving and social skills they need to effectively cope today and be the leaders of tomorrow. Instead of coaching recess, why don’t we go outside, join with the kids, and allow them to coach us in how to imagine, create and play free.