Removing Recess is Never OK

Recess, is it a right or a privilege?

Recess…

A time for eating, moving and playing.

To chase your friends. To talk. To fill your lungs with fresh air.

To be childish, playful and free.

That’s what recess is all about.

Unless…

You’re kept inside the classroom.

To finish your work.

To think about what you’ve done wrong.

A punishment of the worst kind.


There’s not much that makes me more mad. When I hear that my child has been kept inside at recess time, I’m livid. Or any child for that matter.

I don’t care about the reasoning behind it. Whether work wasn’t completed or someone got hurt, this is an unjustified and harmful teaching practice.

Recess is not an optional part of the school day, a reward for good behaviour. It’s a right. Something as necessary as reading, writing and maths. For many children, even more so.

It’s at playtimes when children hit reset. They tune into what their body craves and fulfil that need. Perhaps it’s hanging upside down, running, or resting. Whatever it may be, they move to the beat of their own drum. Well, within the confines of excessive rules and that ticking clock.

What remains of the school day is adult directed. There’s an agenda. There’s restriction. Which is why, when I ask most children about their favourite part of the school day, they reply “recess”. Freedom is like gold dust, helping our children to be the best version of themselves back in the classroom.

So why are so many educators restorting to this unsupportive practice?

Emily-Jo, an educator, summarises it perfectly, saying “it’s when an educator has lost control of themselves and a situation. It absolutely serves no purpose at all except giving the power to the adult”.

Imagine this…

You’re at the end of your patience, as a teacher in a classroom full of children with various learning and emotional needs. Some are on task and follow every instruction. Others are resistant, off task, or behaving in a way that disrupts the class. This grates on you.

The only thing that ruffles these children’s feathers is the threat of removing playtime. Or the real deal, taking it away before their very eyes.

I’m not proud to say that I’ve been here before. In my second year of teaching, I inherited a middle primary class for a term. I was out of my depth. Fertility drugs depleted my high capacity for patience. And on a handful of occasions, I kept a specific student inside for half of playtime. It didn’t happen often but it didn’t need to. After that first time, the invisible threat of it happening again lurked in the air between us.

And the child in question was a boy who desperately needed to move. Who needed time to fill up his tank, to feel good about himself. All removing recess did, was fracture the connection we had.

Thankfully my time on the dark side has helped me to see the light.

Play is not merely icing on the cake

I can understand how we get into this sticky situation as teachers. It’s the same as when we lose patience with our own children at home. It’s when we’re running on empty, we don’t have the answers, we feel unsupported, we’re lacking direction.

But that doesn’t make it OK.

Play is not optional. It’s more than the icing on the cake, it’s one of the star ingredients.

Never punish a child by removing their right to play. And don’t be tempted to dangle the threat over their heads, bullying children into compliance.

Instead, take a moment to reflect. To dig deeper.

If a child isn’t finishing their work on time, why? Are they tired? Struggling? Or disengaged?

If a child’s behaviour is the problem, why? Are your expectations too high? Are they feeling unsafe? Unsupported? Or are there developmental gaps which make learning or behaving complicated?

Removing recess is never OK.

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