Monthly Archives: January 2014

recess revisited

I wrote a couple posts back about the new recess program at our school. That post focused on where I saw the problem. This one is about where I would look for a solution.

Here’s the quick recap and current scoop- There is a new recess program at school, and I don’t like it. I blogged about it, the principal read it, and she invited me down to check out the program for myself.

There is one thing I regret- not going and seeing the program for myself before taking my complaints public. That’s like burping really loud at Applebees or something. Not very mindful, not very gracious. As it was, I misunderstood two of the rules I mentioned in the previous article, for which I’ve since written corrections. I apologize for that.

So we watched recess, the principal and I. Observed recess. Talked about recess. Discussed our philosophies about how to best promote the shared values of our school. We agreed on almost everything. Between the principal, the recess program, and me, we all sought to foster very similar values.

But it’s not the values I struggle with. I struggle with the underlying belief that guides the program’s implementation. They believe that kids need more adult involvement to protect them and help solve their problems. But there is such thing as too much safety.  Our kids don’t need bubble-wrap rules before going outside to play.

Kids are brilliant. They are flexible with their minds, their bodies, and their emotions. They are built to find creative solutions, to work their way out of tight spots, and to be passionate about stuff. That is where the solution lies. Let them solve the problems they create. How do kids learn to be tidy? By cleaning up their messes. How do students learn to solve problems on their playground? By building and maintaining a recess model of their own. (Check out this school’s bold solution to recess issues.)

Kids are highly capable of solving problems. I see this every time I am invited to do a writing workshop, with the end result always being a fun story. What’s the trick? Recognizing that my job is most definitely NOT to provide answers. My job is to ask the right questions. I don’t have to have all the answers. Collectively, they do. So the kids create characters, and problems, and clever solutions that I would be hard pressed to come up with on my own. Sometimes they create story problems that stress me out midway, testing my faith in my system. But they always find a way out. Always. And if kids can figure out how to get a duck out of jail using a raisin and a ladybug, I think they might have a few suggestions for making recess better.

***Update at our kids’ school-

The student who started the petition at our school, and some others who supported her, delivered her packet of signatures and quotes to the principal. The principal invited her in, listened to her concerns, and appointed her as the leader of a task force aimed at creating a better recess. And tomorrow morning, there is a question and answer session for parents who want to learn more about the recess program.

Awesome stuff! We now have 450 creativity machines, energized by this idea of taking part in creating a better recess. We have a supportive principal, committed to fostering the growth of kind, intelligent, and socially engaged students. And in the background, non-intrusively, there are families and friends in the community, cheering for our kids to succeed. Exciting stuff!



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized


Happy MLK day!

Check out the amazing artwork of Pete Fecteau. This is 4,242 Rubik’s cubes here. It took him 40 hours to complete. He says it like that’s a long time. But that’s over 100 an hour!!!

What a fantastic display of imagination and possibility!

(And a special thanks to Elizabeth Dulemba for sharing this!)


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Utopian Recess Construction Kits! On sale now!

For about 50 zillion reasons, I believe that recess should be the cornerstone of our educational system.  That is why I’m super-double thumbs-down about what is happening at our kids’ school.

This year, our local school district implemented a program to create a kinder, gentler, safer recess. Honestly, it creeps me out (think Stepford Recess.) For a fee, this company will send out trainers to help set up a school’s new recess curriculum. And once it’s in place, recess is never the same again.

That sucks. Adults have graded recess, and given our kids a failing grade. At playing. Never mind all the developmentally vital lessons that kids need to learn organically through unsupervised play. According to these adults, our kids aren’t playing correctly. Our school district bought into this premise: adults know how to build a playground community, and kids don’t. So the company was hired to re-create recess. (Re-create. Recreate. How’s that for stinging irony?)

We are talking recess. RECESS!!! This is huge! This is something that is VERY IMPORTANT to kids. On some days, it is the one thing that motivates my son to get to school. On every level- physically, mentally, emotionally- kids need their unsupervised time, in the exact same way that they need their sleep.

Here’s a quote from the web page of the new program:

“Our experience is that diminishing opportunities for unsupervised play in our society have left kids with a very thin understanding of how to manage their own play and that it is important to have grown-ups introduce some basic rules to make play work.”

Or, simply put:

Kids don’t know how to play without adult supervision anymore. Therefore, they need more adult supervision.

It goes on further to say that kids don’t just need adult supervision. They need these groan ups to be playing alongside them as well. Wow.

When you are done tripping on that stuff, check out a few of the new playground regulations:

Regulation of the game schedule– The sport of the week is dictated by a fixed schedule. You can’t play soccer if it’s not soccer week. You can’t play football if it’s not football week.

Regulation of the players on the field– The game of the week is governed by a new set of adult-approved rules. For instance, there is a limit on how many players can be on the soccer field at the same time. Players must sub in, play their minutes, and then sub out and wait in line again. (One of the recesses is a mere 15 minutes long.)

* correction- after meeting with the teacher, this rule was removed in the first week of school.

Regulation of where kids can walk– Seriously. If kids want to walk around the playground, there is one designated route where they can walk.**

** edit- this rule was put in place to keep kids from walking into other designated playing zones.

Regulation of where kids can stand– Unbelievable. The standing area is called “The Chill Zone.” Our daughter says “They think if they call it ‘The Chill Zone’ it will make it cool. But that just makes it even worse.” And how about this- The “Chill Zone” is also where kids who get in trouble are sent. Thus, “chilling” and “punishment” are indistinguishable.


Meanwhile, On the other side of the universe, check out this article  by Dr. Peter Gray. It beautifully makes the case for why children need unregulated, unsupervised play. This is the setting where they learn on their own about social consequences, both good and bad. Are there some tough lessons along the way? Absolutely. Are there times when adult intervention is necessary? Of course. But most of the time, our kids can easily navigate this path on their own.

But back to the school- this recess program has been in place since the beginning of the school year. And I am thrilled to say, recess isn’t dead yet. Check this out. After 5 months under recess lockdown, the kids have had enough.  A revolt! A peaceful, respectful, empowering revolt. And such a powerful lesson for all of us. These kids are taking action to create social change.

Just this past week, a group of 5th graders started a petition calling for an end to the new program on the playground.  On the first day they had collected 5 pages of signatures. And by the second day, they had 8 more pages filled with quotes from kids of all ages. And now, kids at at least one other school have heard about what our 5th graders are doing, and these kids are doing the same thing at their own school. They plan to present these signatures to their principles, and then to the superintendent, to hopefully banish the program from their schools forever. As a parent, that’s a playground fight that I am proud to support.

Beautiful, isn’t it, what can happen when a group of children engage their imaginations in an unregulated, unsupervised activity.


Filed under Uncategorized