Whatever happened to …

… recess?

For many school districts, it’s one week in the bag.

An important part of any school day is recess. It’s a chance for students to get outside and burn off a little energy and a chance for teachers to recharge a bit. This year, it’s going to be different.

Photo by Laura Rivera on Unsplash

Of course, at secondary schools, recess isn’t really a thing. There is an opportunity to change classes with every period change which enables social meeting among friends.

In elementary schools, unless it’s raining, all the students in the school and those teachers who are tagged to supervise head out the doors in a mad rush.

This year, to date, it’s all different.

Secondary schools have adopted modified schedules everywhere that minimize contacts among students. At least, of course, during the school day. I happened to be in Windsor yesterday and there was a mob of students out walking through a shopping centre.

Elementary schools have adopted changes as well. The importance of recess hasn’t been ignored – it’s just different. You hear of different strategies – staggering recess, assigning areas of the playground for different groups of students, no playground equipment or sharing of gaming equipment, etc.

Ironically, those who are home schooling are free to go outside and play with whatever might be available in their yards!

My memories of elementary school recess certainly have no place in today’s reality. The only rule that we had was that we had to stay on the school property. After that, we played games, wrestled, ran, slid down the hill in the school, and so much more. The only temporary rule would come after a huge rain where we were cautioned that we had to stay on the blacktop. I don’t think I’d ever heard the term tarmac back then.

There are no leading questions here this week – just a request to describe what recess or breaks look like in your educational reality. You may have a great implementation of recess that may be inspirational for others.

Please share in the comments below.

Author: dougpete

The content of this blog is generated by whatever strikes my fancy at any given point. It might be computers, weather, political, or something else in nature. I experiment and comment a lot on things so don't take anything here too seriously; I might change my mind a day later but what you read is my thought and opinion at the time I wrote it! My personal website is at: http://www.dougpeterson.ca Follow me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dougpete I'm bookmarking things at: http://www.diigo.com/user/dougpete

6 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …”

  1. Good morning Doug!

    As far as I know, Tarmac is the name that I became familiar with first. Blacktop seems to be more of an American term? Over the years, I had also heard of macadam, which seemed to show up in lists with other words like boot, bonnet, and spanner. However, a little research this morning shows that both Tarmac and macadam originate from the UK, with the former being an improved version of the latter, through the addition of tar to the original macadamizing process invented by John Loudon McAdam in 1820. Edgar Purnell Hooley gets the nod for patenting the addition of tar to create “tarmac” in 1901.

    These days, there is yet another upgraded version, with tar now being replaced with Petroleum based bitumen to result in “bitmac,” more commonly known as asphalt. Always nice to do a little bit of research and rabbit hole diving on a Sunday morning! Thank you.

    Over the course of my life as both student and teacher, I’ve been very fortunate to have attended and worked in schools that had a huge proliferation of green space surrounding the paved areas. For kindergarten to grade 4, grades 5 and 6, and then over the course of four different elementary schools while teaching, there has always been a beautiful field adjacent to the school for kids (and teachers) to run and play.

    However, my grade 7/8 middle school and my high school were limited in terms of green space. The grade 7/8 middle school lot was entirely paved and bordered around the perimeter with a wire fence. I remember running and tripping on that asphalt, tearing a hole through my denim jeans and creating quite a nice gash in my knee. However, lest you worry that we suffered during PE, out the back doors of the school was a long course of wooden steps that lead straight up the escarpment to the fairgrounds. That climb alone was sufficient exercise! However, at the fairgrounds, we could run the racetrack (staying to the inside to avoid the horses and sulkies, dodging the horse poop) and then play soccer and flag football on the grassy fields within the interior. During the winter we stayed below the escarpment, running laps around the block on the sidewalk, much to the consternation of some of the local residents who seemed to think that sending kids out to run in T-shirts and shorts when snow was on the ground was a bit too much like boot camp. We all survived, and with our vocal support, the phys ed teacher survived the campaign of worry-letters as well.

    When I was young, we played hopscotch, drew on the pavement with chalk, traded hockey cards, spun tops, played jacks, played well-ball and no one at our school suffered an eye injury as the result of an exploding set of clackers before they were banned.

    In more recent years, kids still play hopscotch, still draw on the pavement with chalk, try to play with Pokémon cards (but they get banned pretty quickly), play wall ball, and now play something called four-square. There is also the annual Jump Rope for Heart, which sees skipping ropes coming out for a chunk of the year.

    There’s no doubt that recess is a critical and necessary part of the school experience. Certainly, for some kids, it is their favourite part of the day! Both phys ed and recess frequently rise to the top of the list of favourite “subjects.“ I wonder why, eh?


  2. What a great topic, Doug! For now, the kids at our school will be spending their recess in their cohort square/rectangle. They can’t bring out equipment due to the smaller size of the space. I wonder if this might lead to creativity, and the development of some no contact, no equipment games. I do think that the times that kids get out for DPA and phys-ed will be important, as that will get them moving more. I’m grateful that our kindergarten team can share a pen space (2 periods per day). We’ll then have a long block of time outside to move. While we needed to think about social distancing in this space, I think that we came up with a plan that will meet different student needs (& safely). twitter.com/avivaloca/status/1304507920328151040?s=21 This reminds me that just as we plan for our indoor spaces, we need to plan for our outdoor ones. Now with the changes to recess, maybe this is even more true than ever before. Curious to hear what other educators and schools are trying!


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  3. During the remote learning delivery model in Ontario from March to June 2020, studies showed that one major piece missing for students was the social connection benefits from learning and playing alongside friends. This socialization piece will be critical to re-establish this fall. This will happen during recess, lunch break, DPA and class time. As such, this year I am imploring staff to utilize our outdoor spaces, not only for recess and DPA but outdoor learning classrooms as well. We have purchased materials to assist in the shift to outdoors such as outdoor seating, student clipboards and mobile, hanging whiteboards. Not only will students benefit from fresh air but outdoor time allows students to take a break from mask wearing. The mental health benefit from mask breaks should not be underestimated. This post conjured up two thoughts. First, the realization that not all schools in Ontario have the same outdoor spaces to utilize. While some are fortunate to have large blacktop and large grass fields, many will be forced to squeeze into small parcels of pavement. The second thought is the need for educators to shift our mindset when it comes to going outdoors. Often as fall turns to winter we see Phys-Ed classes revert to indoor gymnasiums for the winter. We see schools all too often declare indoor recess. This year is the time where we need to embrace our winter season. A crisp, 4 degree, Canadian winter day should be seen as another opportunity to get fresh air and connect as opposed to hunkering down in the classroom. I realize this shift won’t be easy for some. I realize school floors may be wetter and muddier than previously accepted. But if March to June 2020 taught us anything, it is to never take for granted a single opportunity to let our students learn and play alongside each other, outside. I am wishing all my fellow educators an exciting and safe September.

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  4. I’m with Jeff. I have a value line activity planned for literacy tomorrow, and the only way we can do that, I think, is by going out to our designated classroom space….I have told my kids to please dress for the weather, no matter what. We’re going outside. Lots.

    I am at a 7-12 chool. We are subdividing the field into gym space and classroom spaces. The high school will have their own section.


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