I got a text from a fellow mom last week of an image she snapped in her son’s CT middle school. She captioned it “…in other words, no fun.” It was a picture of the “Recess Rules” posted near the playground exit in the school’s hallway. Here it is:

Perhaps simply posting a list of "Permitted Activities" would have saved ink...

Perhaps simply posting a list of “Permitted Activities” would have saved ink…

Whatever happened to teaching kids how to interact? Do we really need to ban basketball?

As a teacher, I can understand how these rules came to be. Fifth and sixth graders are handfuls. Balls of energy. The social scene is rapidly becoming the epicenter of their little world. Friends, boy/girlfriends, cliques, parties, sports…these are huge pieces of their life. These interactions get messy as kids learn to navigate them. There’s almost inevitably going to be fighting, bickering, and the potential for bullying and violence if these things aren’t monitored by adults who can model how to function in a community. I can really see how a friendly game of flag football could quite easily turn into a tackling game with black eyes, or how a basketball game can end in thrown elbows and skinned knees…I really can. But is the solution to just eliminate it? To pretend these social needs don’t exist? Yikes.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, the book Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom, Ages 4-14 by Chip Wood is my go-to resource for a general “what should school look like?” set of guidelines for different ages and grades. Well, as I suspected, in the 10 year old chapter, the author cites the need for “large muscle development,” the desperate need for “outdoor time and physical challenge,” that “fairness issues peak and can be solved,” and that students this age “work very well in groups.” He emphasizes that 11 year olds have a “vast appetite for food and physical activity and talking,” and that they are in “constant motion.” He cautions that “physical aggression is not uncommon,” and that this can be the “height of cliques” among peer groups. These are normal parts of child development that we, as adults, should support and help our children master.

Are these rules preventing bullying? I really doubt it. In fact, my line of thinking is that by not allowing students to figure out how to play a game of basketball where no one “accidently-on-purpose” trips their classmate to get the ball, we are doing the exact opposite. We are opting to ignore the social needs of our students to make life easier in the short-term. We are stunting their social growth in the name of  fewer disagreements on the play yard which may end up requiring adult intervention. And I think it’s a big mistake.

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