It is the second day of autumn and the wind has really come out to play. The trees sway and the first leaves are dancing across the field. A group of grade school students plays near me- seven kids throwing a football and catching it in a game of their own making- no contact (not on purpose anyway), no rules or points. They spent the entire recess stretching their physical knowledge with that ball and social skills with each other, working on passes, turn-taking, fairness and sportsmanship. Nearby younger students are playing out roles in an elaborate imaginative game- being the bossy one or the follower, being the grown-up or the baby.
All around the field students are working with each other- sometimes by working against each other a little bit- to grow and develop as social beings.
Just five minutes past the Middle School students boarded a yellow bus to travel to center city and take part in an afternoon at the opera. Young adolescents joked and jostled- advising each other on how to straighten a tie or smooth their hair at the same time as they talked over each other and displayed the full gamut of youthful bravado. Again, learning socially in the way young people do as they set out together on this novel and much-anticipated experience that gives them a foothold in the grown-up world.
There are times that we have visitors to the school who ask why we keep the habit of outside shared recess alive in our schedule.
There must be times where family or well-meaning friends raise an eyebrow when your child talks about afternoons spent in the field or on a nature walk and not behind a desk. It is these moments that I summon up when answering those questions- moments of social learning that can and do happen when we allow the students time to be together in ways that are only gently shaped by our ideas, plans or agenda.
Social learning starts in the way we meet each other in the morning, in the way we line up or listen attentively to each other in class or hold the door for another to pass. All of these things can be planned and shaped in our school schedule. What happens when the students have space to ‘be together’ is the extra element that I really appreciate about our school though- the additional learning that comes from one another where those other lessons get practiced and take root. It is in these moments that children bring questions to each other, where they challenge each other to do better, where they can cheer for a step made by their friends.
Play here is work. Recess is free time but it is certainly not down-time if you consider the learning that can happen in this way.
It gives us all a chance to breathe a bit in our day and it makes space for the other lessons to settle into this social framework of who we are together.
If your child tells you that they love recess, keep this in mind. They are not ‘just playing’ as some might say. They are building, testing and maintaining the social fabric in which they can hold and contain all of the other learning they do here. I love being there to watch it happen.