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Terri Mauro

It's Recess Time: Do You Know What Your Child Is Doing?

By November 14, 2012

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A post on Parenting.com about an unnamed school district that banned running at recess has inspired some conversation among About.com's parenting guides this week about the way kids are no longer able to be free and skin knees and play hard and exercise and get their needs for movement met. And certainly, for young students with ADHD or sensory-integration issues who benefit from jumping and pushing and whirling, the removal of an unrestricted recess can have real repercussions in the classroom. I'm not insensitive to the need for kids to be something other than robots chained to desks. My own son's difficulty with staying still was a constant source of behavioral challenge all through his school years.

Yet I'm always struck, whenever conversation among parents turns to lamenting the loss of recess and physical education, by how idyllic everybody's vision of those activities seems to be, and how far that is from my own childhood memories. I detested recess as a kid. I wanted nothing more than to find a quiet corner to read, and hated it when teachers kept pushing me out on the field to run with the pack. Running at recess is great if you're great at running; if you stink at it, if you get out of breath in no time, if playing ball means getting an extra chance to show that you're terrible at playing ball, then really, the notion of a run-free recess and maybe a few fewer days of phys-ed is what sounds idyllic. Clearly, I was born before my time.

Even if you were an ace at recess, though, and you know your child needs that movement break to function, don't be so sure that your student with special needs is getting any such thing. Oftentimes, while the rest of the students run and play, kids in self-contained classes are kept to a corner of the blacktop where paraprofessionals can keep an eye on them and they won't bother anybody. If your child does get to run free, and especially if he runs a little different, he may be at risk of bullying; on the other hand, if he likes the proprioceptive impact of pushing on things, and those things sometimes include other kids, the one accused of bullying might be him. Lack of social skills or age-appropriate coordination can make an attempt to get in on the recess fun way more trouble than it's worth. Your child may not need an official running ban to take himself out of the running one way or another.

Recess is #1 on my list of five school trouble spots to stay on top of, and it's a good idea to talk with your child's teacher and IEP team about how exactly recess is run for your child's class, what supports are needed, and what modifications are made. If recess is an unmanageable situation, see if OT and PT can be scheduled during that time, so your child gets needed movement without the social pressure (and doesn't lose out on class time for the pull-outs). It also helps to know the school personnel your child may be encountering during recess, and the ones who may have an eye on the field and give you some inside info.

Remember that what happens at recess doesn't stay at recess -- it boomerangs throughout your child's school day. If behavior problems spike after recess or right before it, in anticipation of trouble, don't forget to figure in that no-man's-land of the school day when looking for causes and solutions. Maybe it's a bad thing that your child is always losing recess because he's acting up in class, or maybe it's a sign that recess is such a bad thing he'll do anything to get out of it. I can relate.

Do you have strong feelings about recess, pro or con? Share in the comments.

November 14, 2012 at 10:59 pm
(1) sylrayj says:

My daughter is the bully’s dream. She wails when she’s left behind. She stomps off with arms crossed if someone takes her spot in line. She bursts into tears if she’d wanted to play with one friend but they wanted to go somewhere else. And, she is always being rescued by any number of friends or other students or teachers or even other parents.

I get to meet with the principal tomorrow, to talk about this. I want her to learn how to face those overwhelming emotions. I want her to rescue herself sometimes. I know it has to be done with care and support, and I don’t know that this school can succeed – but I definitely hope they won’t hinder me too much as I try to help.

I wish that with the anti-bullying education they provide, that they would focus on what a target looks like, acts like, and sounds like. It’d help people who are possibly just testing boundaries to recognize how their actions might appear. And if everyone could be taught about what to do when disappointed or angry, maybe everyone would have a better time.

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