Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Recess Coaches

Not long ago, my daughters came home from school complaining about something called the Kilometre Club. A school newsletter explained the program as follows: "Students are encouraged to accumulate 50 K or more by running . . . on our track every Tuesday and Thursday. . . . .This initiative will help maintain and establish an endurance base for physical fitness and for other sports." According to my daughters, the teacher in charge of the program explained that the club would be especially beneficial for children who were misbehaving in school; running around the track at recess would allow these kids to let off steam. Participation in the Kilometre Club was ostensibly voluntary, however, somewhere along the line, organizers thought it might be a good idea if everyone ran around the track at recess. So for a while all the kids were being "strongly encouraged" to run laps, not just on the designated days, but every day. It was around this time that my daughters started complaining about the program. They did not like being told how to spend their recess time. One of their best friends happens to be an avid distance runner—and even she did not want to run laps during the precious 15-minute breaks at school. I suggested to my daughters that if they didn't enjoy running laps, they should simply not do it. After all, as I pointed out to them, they are already physically active with their friends at recess, and this is the one time in the school day when they are purportedly free to play as they see fit. I also observed that even if teachers are "strongly encouraging" kids to run laps, the implication is that there is still some choice in the matter.

To make a long story short, my daughters and their friends stopped running laps, and the program seemed—thankfully—to fizzle out.

But, after reading this newspaper article about recess coaches in schools in St. Catharines, Ontario, I'm beginning to realize that the problem of adult encroachment on recess is much more widespread than I thought. Below is the comment I posted about the article on the newspaper's website site. It pretty much sums up my thoughts on the issue:

I think this program is well-intentioned but ultimately wrong. Kids need some time and space to themselves, where adults are not interfering and organizing. Do kids not have enough organized activities already? And aren't self-organized activities better in the long run in terms of the skills they teach kids? If exclusion is an issue, that can be dealt with separately in empathy and anti-bullying programs. But for goodness sake, let's put a stop to the ongoing colonization of kids' space and time by adults (however well-meaning). When I was young, we played many, many self-organized games similar to Octopus; our large "street" groups were flexible, permeable, multi-aged and inclusive. My own daughters play games like Octopus and Four-Square during recess at school without any help from "coaches." Everyone is allowed to play—in fact, they modified Four-Square and renamed it Fun Square, so that it wasn't limited to four kids. Give kids the benefit of the doubt—and a little freedom—and they might surprise you!


  1. I read the article and think it's interesting that the recess coaches are kids, and that the main rule is that everyone is allowed to play.

    It reminds me of Vivian Gussan Paley's book "You Can't Say You Can't Play." Though in her book, the idea for the rule (you can't say you can't play) comes from the teacher but the kids have to figure out what that means, if it's fair, how to negotiate the grey areas, etc.

  2. I agree it's better that the coaches are kids. But the kid recess coaches are organized, trained, and supervised by teachers and parents. I think inclusion is extremely important, but I wonder if it can be forced, and if it is, is it real inclusion? I teach my kids that excluding is a form of bullying, and they know how I feel about that! They have, on many occasions, chided their school friends for trying to exclude someone from a game.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is, I'm not sure recess coaching is the right way to deal with issues of inclusion/exclusion. Kids need to experience self-organization in order to figure out for themselves that it's better for everyone if no kid is excluded.

    (Btw, thanks for reference to the Paley book. I will check it out.)

  3. I left this comment on the article:

    Some kids like, and need, to spend a little time alone. They're introverts. There's nothing wrong with them.

    If the program is truly voluntary and allows kids to be by themselves if they need to, or with one or two close friends, then I'm OK with it.


    The article reminded me of a truly ridiculous NYTimes article about schools trying to discourage "Best Friends" in the name of inclusion.