We went on a field trip to Hayden Planetarium today (so amazing!) and when we arrived back at the school, there was only a little bit of time left before the final bell of the day rang. The other teachers who chaperoned the field trip and I decided to let the kids run up and down on the front lawn of the school.
Oh what fun they had! It was like they hadn’t played outside in years — if ever! According to Alice Drinkworth in “What Are the Benefits of Recess in Middle Schools?”
Children are more attentive and productive in the classroom after recess, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on “The Crucial Role of Recess in School.” The results are the same whether the recess is held indoors or out. Directed attention, such as that used in academics, has its limits. Taking an unstructured break avoids attention fatigue, regardless of the age of the child. While the time spent at recess is shorter in middle school, the periodic breaks have the same optimizing effects on the brain.
At first, only a few of our middle schoolers were running around and the majority of them just stood on the grass playing on their phones. My colleagues and I encouraged them to put their phones down and go play — and that’s exactly what they did. One kid had a handball and before we knew it, a game of good old-fashioned catch broke out! Girls and boys were yelling “throw it to me,” vying to catch that elusive ball! It was awesome! A few minutes later, a group of boys and girls from sixth, seventh, and eighth-grades combined to form a circle and initiated a game of “hot potato” with one of the kids’ basketball. The energy of the school campus was coming alive and kids who normally just sit around or who never really socialize with their peers were engaging, problem solving, laughing, exercising, and most of all, having fun. I even managed to throw the ball a few times and get in on the action!
This year I waited until after the State exams to take my students out of the building on field trips, do lots of project-based learning, and escort them outside for recess a few times a week. My rationale: the State tests are over and I can justify doing these things. But is that really best practice? No, it’s not. Waiting until after the State tests to engage in these activities is not a spoken rule, per se, but doing so is somewhat expected — even though the research shows that this thinking is counterintuitive and counterproductive towards the desired result of children learning optimally in optimal environments. Any time a feasible opportunity arises for our students to learn inside and outside of the classroom, it is our duty as educators to seize it! It is possible to find a balance between test preparation/day-to-day instruction and outdoor play. It’s not an either/or” thing.
This was not always my thinking.. Something changed. Perhaps it’s being the “new girl” at a “new school.” Regardless, now I know better. Providing authentic learning opportunities for my student before, during, and after the State exams is best practice for it is these experiences that will help them learn for life — not just for the test.
My students had a lot of fun today. I had a lot of fun today, too. It felt great to connect with my students outside of the classroom, to see their athletic skills, to vibe with them in a very relaxed environment. More than anything, it felt great to reconnect with my core values of education and what that truly looks like. I admit, I was slipping. Glad I’m back. See you on the playground!