Friend and fellow teacher Jenny Paulsen shared this Scary Mommy article to Facebook a few weeks back: Pedal Desks. It reminded me that recess is more than just an extra duty during my day.
Two girls asked me if I wanted to play volleyball with them yesterday during indoor recess. The gym was a chaotic mess of flying basketballs and volleyballs on the court, while the kids in the bleachers played games on their devices and displayed a stunning inability to keep their hands to themselves. It’s middle school, after all. I have a love/hate relationship with recess. I hate it because I never thought I’d have to be a recess monitor as a Secondary teacher. I love it because kids need activity, especially in middle school.
I haven’t played volleyball in years, and I never played it well even when I was a volleyball player. I accepted their offer.
We spent fifteen minutes passing the ball in our small group, alternating rounds of bump, set, hit. The passes were often wildly out of control, exacerbated by our lack of wanting to chase after rogue hits in our non-gym-friendly shoes. The red impact marks forming under the sleeves on my forearms were a harsh reminder of how unforgiving the unassuming volleyball can be. The routine of it became a trance: a few good hits or passes, then a random one that breaks the order, laughing, talking. While I was showing my benchwarmer-level volleyball skills, my trusted duty sidekick was having a three point contest with some kids at one of the basketball hoops. It was the most fun I’ve had during recess in a long time. Playing with kids instead of watching them play completely changed how I usually feel about my dreaded recess duty.
When we were done, I thanked the girls for asking me to play with them. The extended invitation turned into one of the brightest spots of my day. What a simple pleasure that I don’t take time to enjoy nearly enough. Most kids would gladly allow me to play with them at recess, but they don’t think to ask, probably fearing the rejection that I might say no. As an adult, I don’t ask to join because of the fear of butting in during one of their rare free moments of the day.
The act of play is so important for all of us, regardless of age. It’s a maddening and well-documented fact that too many schools are cutting recess and P.E. in order to squeeze in more instructional time in the face of testing pressure. And we all fall victim to the misguided mindset that as students get older, they shouldn’t have recess. When I first starting teaching and found out my school still had recess through 8th grade, I thought it was insane. Why is that? Does maturity mean that we have to turn into sedentary slugs? And what about the piles of research that show the importance of play and physical activity on health, well-being, and cognitive function?
I know this feels like yet another thing to add to the laundry list of what schools should be doing, and that’s as frustrating for me as it is any teacher or administrator. The alternating feelings of rage and impotence that come from not being able to do what we know is best for kids is enough to make anyone feel hopeless.
Recess keeps us active and young. It gives our brains a rush of fresh blood. If fifteen minutes of play in the middle of the day can change my outlook and mood as a 32-year-old, then we definitely shouldn’t be robbing our children and teens of it.
Taking time to play won’t make our schools fail, and it won’t make our students fall further behind. It would help to make them happier, healthier, smarter human beings. What would be so bad about that?
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.