I awakened to the usual droning newscasts this morning but one of the reports really caught my attention. It seems that there is a battle going on about the banning of recess from the school day. When I web searched the topic, I discovered this isn’t just a battle, it’s a world war. Millions of kids around the world may have one of their basic rights stripped away. I was intending to blog this as a funny piece but I’m starting to think that all these websites and protesters may have every reason to be concerned.
I grew up with a fairly simple agenda: walk to school, sit in class, learn reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, a little bit of Polish (it was a small Catholic school in a Polish-American neighborhood), go outside, run around, play hopscotch and tag, gossip with the girlfriends, giggle at the boys and sometimes fall down and scrape a knee. My parents trusted the school authorities to get it right and teach and nurse and discipline me when needed. There were boundaries and no cell phones to get in the way. I walked home and ate dinner (always at 5:00pm) and then practiced my music and did my homework. This was way before after-school activities and gym teachers. Gym activities were covered on the playground with the running and tag and climbing and jumping rope. Recess was also a lesson in civics and socialization. If you thought a kid wasn’t playing fair, you called him on it. I found out early that there was strength in numbers. Usually, the kids could work out their problems without adult interference. We needed that time in the schoolyard to learn how to connect and get along. We were too busy listening to the teacher and writing from the blackboard the rest of the day.
That was then, a half century ago, and this is now. There are car pools and suburban moms and multi-tasking and multi-schedules. Kids don’t walk to school anymore; they are driven or bussed. Many of them probably have cell phones too. The parents are working from a new paradigm. They are super invested in their kids’ daily lives, perhaps too invested. I think a lot of families are on the edge of panic. There’s no time for a sit-down dinner as mom is working full-time and has to take Johnny or Joanne to soccer practice on Monday, violin lesson on Tuesday, little league or gymnastics on Wednesday, library-enrichment night on Thursday, and sleep-over on Friday. Many kitchens have organizational flow charts on their refrigerators. God, I’m breathless just thinking about it. No wonder the kids are tuning out with MTV and computers. Stop the world, they want to get off!
You would think that all this extracurricular activity would be producing robust and healthy kids. More disturbing news: the big Macs are catching up with the younger population as much as the older. Obesity in children/adolescents is on the rise. It’s probably due to the weekends spent chilling out from all the scheduled activity after school. Kids want to vegetate in front of their PC. And I bet many have their very own computer too. Well, yes, it’s an escape hatch. And not just for kids, eh? I’m blogging right now so I’m just as guilty.
The best release to the demands of parents and teachers may just be the old-fashioned idea of recess, a brilliant concept which worked for millions of kids throughout the decades. Kids need to take a healthy break, need to feel free to just do nothing, away from their hectic, over-scheduled modern lives. Jumping rope and running around will burn up some calories and maybe balance out the sitting at the computer.
I worry that parents are micro-managing their children’s lives. And I worry that professional educators are focusing on testing and outcomes so much that their stress to make a school or school district look good is carrying over to excessive demands on their charges. Schoolbags are now being designed more ergonomically because the kids have so much homework that they must carry tons of books back and forth each day. Doctors are seeing more and more orthopedic problems in the younger generation. Maybe it’s time to separate adult needs for competition from what the kids need and “Get off their backs”.
Quite simply, kids need time to themselves. It’s in the downtime that imagination and dreams are born. Cloud gazing may lead to creative ideas and future goals. Mom and dad, stand down. Teachers do the same. Give the kids some breathing room. And, while you’re at it, take some time off yourselves. It wouldn’t be such a Prozac nation if we all remembered to play.