I had the pleasure of spending a 45-minute recess with our (6-12) students recently. It was a perfect autumn day: bright, crisp, and the trees were all dressed up in gold and burgundy. As I looked around, I was reminded of the essential role Play has in our development. I watched two girls swoosh down the slide again and again, giggling the whole time – delighted by good company, fresh air and the playful tug of gravity. A child hung upside down from her knees, like a bat, and watched the world from a different perspective. One boy, all alone, would spin, kick, gesture with his hands, and then take off running, ducking and dodging – his mind ablaze in imagination. Others worked together using fallen honeysuckle branches to construct huts. Osage oranges were crushed into “potions” or turned into a type of currency that required negotiation and bargaining skills. Some played basketball, soccer, read books on the porch, sat with a friend in a sunny spot and played “hand games” or had conversations.
There were other lessons being learned as well. Harder lessons. One child had a basketball knocked out of his hand. I watched as he tried to figure out what to do: tell a teacher, ask for the ball back, walk away, cry. He shook it off and asked for his ball back. Another group of children discussed, to the brink of arguing, the rules of a made-up game. Somehow they all figured out a way to continue playing together.
One child looked lonely. I watched as he joined a few groups but for some reason would walk off alone again. He listlessly dragged a stick through the mulch, watching others play. This lonely time, caused by choice or circumstance, allowed what I consider a magical moment to happen; two girls were imitating how they thought “old people” walk (slow and bent over in case you were wondering ). The boy, while watching them, looked at his stick and then walked over and offered it to the girls as a cane. Sometimes tiny moments of compassion only come from those who understand the need for it.
No smartphones. No video games. No TV. The earth, a few balls, a few friends, imagination – and a cane in case someone needs one. That’s what I call a great recess.