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The theory of recess is that it allows an unstructured time of day for children to play and expand their creativity, providing a break from academics. The hope is to minimize disruptive behavior throughout the rest of the day in class. Collegiate students have recess from junior kindergarten to eighth grade. For me, it was a refuge of relaxation through activity and a center of creativity.
From the imagination that went into kindergarten games to the excitement of fourth grade football games, recess was what made my school day. It was what you thought about when mad minutes and the life cycle of the butterfly were too much too take in. Missing recess was the ultimate punishment, more terrifying for my classmates and I in Lower School than a trip to (former Lower School head) Dr. Jill Hunter, and it kept us in line, for the most part. The games we played would change from time to time, but they all were always too short and too much fun.
For the class of 2017, Middle School recess was in a period of change. Our fifth grade year (2010) was the last one in which the field and basketball courts behind the science buildings where available. Not to downplay the important role of our new parking system, but this field, in my mind, was the ideal recess destination. Sam Hunter (’17) recalls the dense trees that bordered the north side of the field that acted as a wall between the world of Collegiate and the forest where our outdoor classroom is now. You could not see any of the school once you crawled under the branches of these trees, which provided you with the sudden beauty of nature. We called it Narnia. It offered a realm of forest games for us (ninjas, pinecone wars, etc.).
But the next year the field was gone, and Narnia was destroyed. We spent that year being shuffled from blacktop to gym to blacktop, and, in my opinion, games were limited by this, stifling creativity. By seventh grade, for some of us, recess became more about socializing, as we had the opportunity to engage in after-school sports. But others of us still took our opportunities to play games. By eighth grade, we became obsessed with ultimate frisbee. My classmates did not want to let recess go, so during our ninth grade lunch we would play basketball during what were then 45-minute lunches.
Watching fifth-sixth grade recess today on Grover Jones Field, I see much of the same. Small groups are socializing on the football turf. Boys are playing five hundred or a football game, which brings back memories of Clayton Cheatham’s bullet passes. The game continues with interceptions and touchdowns being treated with whooping and hollering. A soccer ball is being passed around, and a tag game appears to be developing. Students report that it is their favorite part of their day, to no one’s surprise. When asked, wrestling coach Andy Stone said of recess, “School and life can be overly programed for students… Students need time to be on their own to learn how to organize, referee, and play in groups. They need down time and freedom for their physical and mental health. At its best, learning is self-regulated and self-directed. Recess is a great place for these things to happen.” Students are learning responsibility running their own games.