Recess and Learning: Making Play a Priority

by Andrew Hofstetter

I had a family member tell me of a predicament that her elementary-aged son got into at his public school out west. This son, who is a bit energetic, easily distracted, but often very eager to please and quite respectful, found himself in trouble on his very first day at his new school. He had violated one of the rules of the playground during recess. The rules were there for a reason. He was warned multiple times that if he continued to disregard them, he’d be forced to sit out. But the message didn’t seem to sink in, and so that is what he did. He sat out. He sat by the wall. On his first day in a new class at a new school in a new town in a new state, he broke the rules and was punished accordingly.

His crime? Running.

Yes. He was running on the playground. So careless. So reckless. Throwing caution to the wind, he ran. Without a helmet or safety harness, and probably without reflective tape on his shoes. Running was an activity that was banned at his new school because of the dangers associated with it. Kids who run can hit their heads and be more prone to injury. They also tend to not pay close attention to their surroundings, making them a liability to the safety of others. The risks were considered significant enough that running was eliminated from approved recess activities.

Certainly this standard isn’t in place at every school, and many people in even the most over-protective environments would think this standard a bit extreme.

But the story is true…unfortunately. And the standard that allowed this rule to be enforced is creeping into our lives in more ways than we may realize.

Play is losing its important place in our schools and our culture. It’s not just technology and video games that are keeping kids from playing outside, scratching their knees, and using their energy for something different. It’s also our schools. It seems we’re losing something vital in our efforts to educate. 

The Importance of Play

Play is ultimately much more than an add-on to a day at school. Our students are not just brains attached to bodies. They're whole people, needing to engage their minds, hearts, and bodies into life. They're social. They're spiritual. They're intellectual. They're physical. 

Students at Liberty Classical have three recesses scheduled into each day. That’s three different opportunities for them to use their minds in different ways and to exercise their bodies. It’s three different chances for them to run (yes…RUN), play, jump, scream, and do whatever else they feel the urge to do (within reason) while not sitting behind a desk.

Beyond recess, Liberty also starts competitive athletics for kids in 4th grade. It allows them to learn the fundamentals of a sport like basketball and engage in competition with other kids their age.

The point is that play is part of what it means to be a child. In fact, it’s part of what it means to be human. If we’re not putting our children in situations where they are allowed to play, where they are encouraged to use their bodies the way God designed them, then we’re not giving our children the chance to fully experience life.

The benefits of play go far beyond “getting the wiggles out.” But perhaps that’s a story and a study for another time. For now, let’s commit ourselves as parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents, educators, coaches, mentors, and humans to doing all that we can to make sure that play is a part of life.