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Child’s Play…

April 16th, 2011 - By Therese Madden

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…is serious business! Recently, recess has been canceled in many schools. Learn how some Philadelphia schools are saving this much needed break in the day.


Damian and Phillip Hammond


Damian Hammond is a 4th grader at Bache-Martin Elementary School. Upset by the amount of times recess was canceled he decided to speak in front of the School Reform Commision about why recess is so important. Read Damian’s speech (PDF) »

Listen to Damian’s interview:

Recess… it’s the time of the school day where the kids get to run free. Or do they? “Well, many schools have chosen not to have recess because of the problems that it creates. Maybe bullying, maybe violent incidents, things like that. So, rather than addressing the fact that we can change or we can reconstruct it, we have just eliminated it,” said Betty Ann Creighton, the Director of Health, Safety and Physical Education for the School District of Philadelphia.

A student at Pennell Elementary School enjoying some jumprope time

But doesn’t it seem like a really bad time to be canceling recess, when childhood obesity rates are so high?

Creighton says rather than schools getting rid of recess altogether she wants them to re-imagine free time, by not making it quite so… free. The official term is “socialized recess.” As Creighton explains, “socialized recess is a plan that when the children go out for recess, some children go to one section of the yard, and some children go to another section to play different games, different activities, and really the purpose of it is that they don’t cross over into each other’s territory.”

Drew Preston is the Physical Activity Coordinator for the School District, he helps schools implement physical activity initiatives, including socialized recess. Here’s his explaination, “the difference between what recess used to be and what socialized recess is, is that, before we used to open the door and let the kids run. But, unfortunately the kids will be active, and we don’t like what they do and some kids won’t go out because they are afraid of what happens when kids are left by themselves. The bullying, the gossiping, and typically what we found was that’s where most of the arguments and fights would happen, start, if you allow that.”

Pennell Elementary School Gym Teacher, Mrs. Burpee

But what happened to kids playing on their own? Isn’t this what kids are good at? Yvette Duperon is the principal at Philadelphia’s Bache-Martin Elementary School. Here’s what she says, “back in the day, when I was young, we knew Chinese double dutch and we knew all these different old-time things. Kids don’t do that because they are couch potatoes. They know Nintendo and all these other things that are inside games. When they go outside, they are very rough, it’s a lot of them out there at the same time, they rip and run and it causes accidents. And what we may think is bullying may not be bullying, it may be just an accident.”

At Pennell Elementary School in the Logan section of Philadelphia, they started socialized recess in the beginning of the school year. It’s run by the gym teacher Mrs. Burpee.

The school yard is broken up into different activities and groups, kids do not have a choice where they go or who they are with. Each day they are assigned a different activity. There’s an exercise station, kids playing board games, basketball, and on the other side of the playground some kindergarteners are engrossed in a more quiet, non-competitive activity… cup stacking! “We’re making a castle out of the cups,” one proudly exclaims.

There’s an adult at each station, it’s well organized and the kids seem to be having fun. “I like recess cause you get to play games… I like to exercise too.”

Another thought about this more structured recess is that in addition to getting more exercise, the kids are learning to socialize. Principal Duperon again, “they don’t know how to play, they really don’t. I think just like teaching literacy and math we have to teach them how to be socialized and remember if you look in the world today and you turn the news on you see nothing but killings and things like that because people can’t even touch each other on the bus. Students need to learn how to cooperate with each other and be social, they do.”

And perhaps they’ll be healthier too.


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