Thursday, February 12, 2009

How does your school manage recess?

I hear a lot of stories from parents about the chaos at recess. I'd love to hear what schools are doing right to create a fun yet safe and organized environment for kids at recess time. Please, let's focus on solutions as we have already discussed all the problems in past posts. Thanks! Best, Kate


  1. Hillcrest Elementary has added a lot of youth and vigor to the cafeteria and lunch recess by bringing after-school staff into the school day. The lunchroom and yard have really been transformed this year with this innovation. There are now a lot of energetic and caring adults to play, guide and care for the students. They are also highly qualified and trained with continuous staff meetings and professional development. Of course, there is always a credentialed staff member on duty as well.

    I have suggested at my son's school we try something like this. However, with the possible budget cuts looming, those types of conversations seem to be shelved at least for the moment.

    More supervision and more quality interaction/engagement is really what we as parents want for our children at recess. Simply put, that means more adults to make our children feel loved and cared about. Hillcrest has found a way to deliver that.

  2. 2:56 - good points. There was recently an article in the Examiner that explained that Hillcrest has been able to add staff thanks to a grant from the CA Dept. of Ed. Unfortunately, this is not possible for all schools, and schools with higher SES levels are less likely to be seen as needing this "extra" support. I'm not sure how much schools can do to change this problem without $$, although schools with a lot of involved parents would be wise to encourage a volunteer program to help supervise and interact with kids on the yard.

  3. Here's the challenge:
    There is a tone of research about the advantages of UNSTRUCTURED play in which children have to come up with their own ideas, own games, and negotiate with peers. But there still needs to be strong supervision to assist with conflict resolution.

    However, although that is the best model, it does require more competent staffing.

    Instead, the trend is toward *structuring* the one unstructured time in the school day by offering organized activities. This makes supervision easier for the adults.

    But the long term consequences are unclear.

    Kids these days don't know how to entertain themselves. They are rushed from school to enrichment activities. They have a hard time coming up with their own ideas on what to do with their free time (aside from TV, video games and computers). And employers complain about young employees who aren't motivated, who need lots of direction and even need to told exactly what to do at what time because they aren't used to having to structure their own time.

  4. I agree with 6:03. The research does show that kids need more unstructured time. As long as there are enough adults to step-in in the case of bullying or fighting why does recess need to be "managed"?

  5. I agree about the benefits of unstructure play time. However, at some schools it is the number of children on the yard at one time that can lead to chaos. Last year our school started splitting recess so that only 2-3 grades were out there at the same time. Several students had commented on the school survey that they didn't feel safe on the school yard, not because of the kids' behavior, but of flying balls, collisions, overlapping games, etc. Reducing the number of kids on the yard made a big impact. The yard is so much calmer, just for that. Also, our PE teacher started to organize some activities to get things going. I don't think that this increased her hours, just redistributed them.

  6. Managing recess is easy, get more adults on the asphalt and have them coordinate organized games instead of a free-for-all.

    I can't tell you how many schools I've seen who have 100 kids out on the playground with only one adult present, and that one adult is reading, eating, or on a cell phone. There's laws and guidelines about student to teacher ratios and supervision on playgrounds, but SFUSd hardly ever adheres to those guidelines.

    Have your school adopt the RESPONSIVE CLASSROOM approach,
    and have recess BEFORE lunch, so the kids don't wolf down their food in a rush to go play. It makes recess better, it makes lunch better, and it costs NOTHING to do, it is just a schedule change.

  7. I'm glad to see some people trying to keep this thread alive. I'm surprised there hasn't been more interest.

    I think kids should learn games at PE then be given the opportunity to play them w/ adult support at recess if they choose. However, forcing kids to play games at recess only turns recess into another PE class, and this would be counterproductive. Read "Last Child In the Woods" for more ideas on why.

    I am curious to know which SFUSD schools are experimenting with recess before lunch. It makes a lot of sense, but there seems to be such resistance to it by so many. If anyone knows of an elementary school trying this model out, could you please post it? Anyone have experience with it?

  8. Creative Arts Charter School has recess before lunch, as part of its Responsive Classroom approach. It's great, my kid actually eats lunch now.

  9. NY Times story:

    Recess may be as important to children's learning as core academic subjects, according to several new studies. Students who had daily recess, outdoor activities or other play opportunities were better behaved than their counterparts and more able to concentrate -- even if they have ADHD -- than their peers. "It's pretty clear that all human beings experience attentional fatigue," said Andrea Faber Taylor, a University of Illinois child environment and behavior researcher. "Our attention has to be restored from that fatigue, and there is a growing body of research evidence that nature is one way that seems particularly effective at doing it."

  10. Miraloma started doing recess before lunch last year. It took a while to work out the kinks, but it seems to be working really well now. The kids eat more and are better able to focus when they go back to class. The school also started staggering recess times so all the kids aren't on the playground at the same time. That helped the playground climate too.

    One day last year I watched a group of fourth and fifth graders--pretty much every kid in those classes--playing a tag game with no adult direction. The rules were incomprehensible to me, but they knew what they were doing. It included everyone--inclusion kids, special-day class kids, near-adult-size fifth grade boys--all playing happily together. It was great to watch.

  11. I don't understand how simply moving recess to before lunch makes that much difference. Could someone explain the thinking?

    As far as why schools may be "resistant" to changing recess schedules, some schools share their yard with Child Development Centers that must meet legal requirements for the amount of outside playtime, and their little ones must be separated from older students. This can make it very difficult, if not impossible, to be more flexible in scheduling recess.

  12. "I don't understand how simply moving recess to before lunch makes that much difference. Could someone explain the thinking?"

    Well, for one thing, the kids work up an appetite for eating their food and are more able to sit still at lunchtime after getting their ya-yas out on the playground. When they eat their lunch they have more energy for the rest of the day.

  13. After lunch, the rest of the day in my kids class consists mainly of an afternoon recess and free play time. Not sure moving lunch recess would change things all that much. I guess they might move the free play to the morning and do more lessons in the afternoon, but it's hard to see the point.

  14. Kids often skip lunch (or eat very little) because they are in a hurry to get to the playground to play. So playing first allows them to then focus on their meal.

  15. ^^Thanks!!