(Editor’s Note. This is the third article in a series by Dr. Phillips on free play. His first two articles can be found by scrolling to the bottom of the Digest home page and then typing “Dr. Ted Phillips” into the search box in the lower left corner).
Activity goes by many names. Free play, supervised play, aerobic activities are just some of the nomenclature used in the world of physical education. When all the jargon is complete, what really do we want our children doing with their free play time? Personally, I would like to see kids outside all the time during free time. I am a believer in supervised recess, not supervised wellness program in lieu of recess. Recess serves many purposes for children; social, physical and mental.
The myriad of social aspects attributed to recess include being with my friends, yelling and screaming and shouting for joy, selecting what to do at that time (decision making) and finally, simply time to be by myself. Are these not a developmental tableau for being an adult decision maker? Without live socializing with my friends, we grow up only able to communicate by electronic devices.
There are mental aspects for continuing recess. Some of which are included in yelling/screaming and shouting for joy; however, simply letting off steam to reduce stress is also very important for children. Has anyone ever sat and watched children develop rules to a game? Often there is negotiation, discussion and give and take, just like in an adult board-room, simply to agree how to play a made up game. If these mental aspects are always handled by adults, how would children ever learn?
What about the physical part of recess? As we have learned, recess is not just about physical activity. Running and jumping should be encouraged for all age groups of children. Why, I want my son (daughter) to learn to be calm. And I agree, however, bones and muscles need to be stressed to develop properly. Hips and shoulders should have pressure on them to enable strengthening of the tendons. Similarly to the elderly, joints need movement and stress. Hopping, skipping and jumping rope is wonderful activity for growing bodies, and should be encouraged. Left alone, children are at their creative apex when making up things to entertain themselves. Recess is one aspect of school which should never be touched, it is that important to children’s development.
Dr. Phillips is a 40+ year teacher, elementary, junior high and high school, self-contained and physical education. Currently he is Chair of Sports Studies at the United States Sports Academy in Daphne, Alabama.