It has happened more than once in my 25 years teaching.
A classroom teacher walks into the gym and says, “Hey, can you have them just run around a bunch and let them burn off some energy?” Or another classic, “It must be nice just to run recess all day.” If you have taught elementary physical education long enough, you have heard those lines and probably many more.
However, as physical education teachers, we know that our classes are much more than “just running around.” We have standards, learning outcomes and teacher evaluations just like all the other subject areas. But does recess fit in as part of a physical education program?
Recess provides students an opportunity to utilize the skills that we have taught them in game or play situations. Additionally, this time of unstructured play can provide children a chance to put Standards 4 and 5 into practical use in real life situations. Physical educators can guide students in the gym to make good decisions regarding personal and social behaviors. We can also assist them in recognizing that physical activity is a great way to interact socially. However, unstructured play with minimal supervision is where the “rubber meets the road” in determining whether or not a student has really achieved that standard. If they can exhibit the appropriate behaviors with these standards in a recess situation, it is probable that they have truly embraced those desirable traits.
The physical education teacher should be the recess advocate for the students at their school. Any experienced teacher has seen students trudging to the playground with a clipboard in their hands because they didn’t finish work at some point in the day. It is not uncommon to see individuals or groups sitting out at recess because “they just can’t behave.” We have to go to bat for our students in those situations to educate staff and administrators that the recess time can help the “unfocused” student regain their composure to complete work. Utilize the multiple studies that show activity jump starts the brain to back your position. Students who “can’t behave” may need that physical release to get their behavior back in check and return to the classroom ready to learn. Another advocacy opportunity could be to create a recess policy for your school or district. SHAPE America – the Society of Health and Physical Educators has a recess position statement on its website at www.shapeamerica.org that outlines the importance of recess.
While recess does not qualify as our instructional time, it does play a crucial role in reinforcing physical education standards and reaching the goal of 60 minutes of activity for our students each day. Physical educators should provide leadership in making sure students get this opportunity. With fewer students playing outside in neighborhoods as when we grew up, recess often provides our students with their only chance to work on the social and cooperative aspects of play.