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Recess and rules

Submitted by on Monday, 15 March 2010 2 Comments

It started out ugly yesterday afternoon, but it ended with a peace accord that made all sides happy.

Big Guy and a friend from school were playing tag at a park when another kid came along and wanted to join. Trouble brewed, though, when the other kid – a year younger and, as a result, a few steps slower – kept trying to change the rules because he kept losing.

“No, red isn’t ‘base’ now,” he lectured as he scampered toward the grass. “Green is ‘base’ now. That’s what I say!”

The other two, loudly but not meanly, kept shouting, “No, no, no! That’s not fair. That’s cheating to change the rules.”

In a matter of a few minutes, they were able to work it out. Big Guy and his friend agreed to a “base” color that gave the other kid more safe havens, and he agreed to quit trying to change the base.

By adult standards it might have been a little loud and messy, but they did achieve a peace agreement for the rest of the afternoon.

It didn’t take a $14-an-hour recess “coach” – the kind they’re hiring in schools across the country to teach children how to play.

A coach such as the one in a New Jersey school who breaks up renegade hopscotch games because that wasn’t what was scheduled. A coach who forces kids to play even if they don’t want to.

One school’s principal said the coach was necessary to cut down on the number of after-lunch disciplinary referrals.  I’ve no doubt that the program does that. In the long-run, though, it also has the potential to teach two other behaviors, neither of which is desirable: To constantly look to an authority figure to settle disputes or to behave only when that authority figure is around.

It seems that having someone around to merely monitor, rather than micromanaging every second, would serve to resolve any disputes the kids can’t figure out for themselves. And dispute resolution is part of what Playworks USA, the nonprofit that provides the coaches in 170 schools across the country, does. But it doesn’t stop there.

Part of Playworks’ pitch is the oh-so trendy demonization: “For many elementary school principals, recess is the toughest part of the day. That’s when all the trouble starts — the teasing, fighting, bullying, injuries, referrals and suspensions,” its Web site says. True – but that’s been going on for decades. It never took turning recess into just another class to stop it before.

Playworks says that’s necessary now because kids today don’t know how to “manage their own play.” To a certain extent, I’ll buy that. I’ve seen preschoolers sit to the side at parties and watch, as if the world is merely a TV screen writ large. But, then, the kids never had a chance to learn anything different because the parents refused to let them learn when they were younger – we never go to parks because they’ll get lice from playing in the sand, they said solemnly.

But, really, does it take an entire year for kids to learn how to “manage their own play.” And does constantly telling a kid where to go and what to do teach anything other than blind obedience?

Some parents like the vigilance: “It’s better this way because that’s how other kids get hurt, when you’re horse-playing,” a mother told the New York Times. “I think the more supervision, the better.”

I bet that mom also avoids the cootie-filled communal sandboxes. And I bet her kid runs to her 30 times a day with grievances that she has to solve.

I’d rather let the kids solve them themselves, just like the three kids did yesterday.

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • Leslie K said:

    except…and I hate to be one of those doom mongerers….if we can be sure they will work it out without one of the kids behaving over-the-top in terms of violence, I am with you.

    My second nephew is a freshman in high school – the same hs that produced an Oscar nominee – and one kid flicked a pencil at another. The ‘Another’ punched him in the face so hard he was knocked unconcious and taken to the hospital in an ambulence. The Another was arrested. The best part? Another has a group of friends who have made it clear the injured kid is going to be beaten to death as soon as he returns to school.

    Obviously, this is an extreme example but my experience is becoming that the level of violent reactions to ‘disagreements’ among children is rising. Little girls Jillie’s age are getting into horrible fist fights and filming them for YouTube. Boys that are 10 and 11 are surrounding the odd-kid-out, knocking him down and stomping on him. I broke up a fight on my street and one of the kids threatened to swing on me. I grabbed him by the collar and told him that if he did, he better make it the best swing he ever took. I later told him, in front of his parent, that if ANYTHING happens to my house, mother or one of my animals I would come right to his door with the police. Thank GOD the parent backed me up.

    It is just weird out there – there is a part of me that wants kids to be kids, but not if their idea of being kids is to act out what they have seen on their latest video game.

    Does that make sense?

    Meanwhile, kudos to your Guy!!!

  • Debra said:

    I agree with you that they need to be supervised – and definitely in grade school, which is where the problems in high school start. There were plenty of parents looking on Sunday, too. We just weren’t in a big old hurry to step in.

    I just don’t know that micromanaging kids every second during recess is the answer.