Monday, November 15, 2010

What is the purpose of recess and lunch times at school?

Seems like an odd question doesn't it? I must admit it's not one that I've given much thought to, until recently.

On Friday morning before school, Miss 9 came up to me and said that her teacher had assigned classmates for them to play at recess and lunch time and she had been given two boys to play with whom she didn’t really get on with and she really was upset that she couldn't play with her friends – unless her 'buddies' (and their 'buddies') played too. Apparently they also had to eat lunch with these kids and not with their normal groups.

I was stunned! And tried to discover what the 'real' story was.

From her I gathered that one girl (who is a known trouble-maker) had made another girl cry over something and there was a boy who was also 'being mean' to other kids and the teacher wanted them to play with different people to stop this behaviour.

Needless to say I decided to talk to the teacher.

I stopped by the Principal's office for another reason and mentioned it to him. He said it sounded strange but to take it up with the teacher first and if I didn't get an answer I was happy with to go back to him.

I spoke to the teacher. She basically said that "they were having social integration issues in the classroom and this approach had worked successfully in the year 1 class so I want to try it". I put forward my point of view that I considered recess and lunch time a "time out" for my daughter where she could unwind from the stress of the class and relax and play with her friends and making her play with kids she wouldn't normally play with would stress her. I also pointed out that there was a big difference between the social development of year 1 and year 3 children.

The teacher did concede "that the pairing (my daughter) had ended up with wasn't ideal" but that my daughter had "strong social skills which she hoped would help the other children". I pointed out that I didn't think this was likely and that all I could see it doing was stressing my daughter.

In the end, we decided to give it a go for the day and see how things went. I was reluctant to do this but didn't feel that I was getting anywhere with the teacher and my daughter, when the teacher asked her if she was willing to try it, said "yes". I mentioned the situation to the Principal and said I would give him feedback the following week.

After school I asked Miss 9 how it went. She said it was "okay" but that apparently one of the boys had slammed the other boy's fingers in the toilet door and that put an end to the "playing together" (this happened at the end of the lunch time anyway).

However, Miss 9 had a VERY DISTURBED night on the Friday night. She was crying in her sleep, calling out and was generally not settled. We've not seen this sort of behaviour from her in a long time and it is definitely a sign of stress with her. So I decided to talk to the teacher again this morning to ensure that they weren't going to do it again.

I explained to the teacher how she was on Friday night and the teacher basically said that she had kept a good eye on my daughter during Friday and that she seemed okay and happy. I pointed out that while she might be able to keep up a positive front at school, I believe the experiment did stress her and I wasn't happy for it to continue.

We had a long talk at by the end of it I really believe that that teacher was hearing what I was saying. As far as I know the teacher would like to repeat the experiment next Friday, but only for recess and a group session after lunch. I am fine with that, as long as my daughter gets some time to unwind during the day.

I mentioned to the Principal briefly in the morning that my daughter had a very unsettled night on Friday night and that I was going to talk to the teacher again. However I didn't seem him after the chat with the teacher.

I was therefore surprised, but pleased, to get a phone call from him at work following up. I explained how things had worked out and that I was happy with the outcome but mentioned that I was still concerned that they were doing this for the Year 1s (the class my other daughter was in – but not as concerned as she has a very different personality and is at a different stage in personal development), but that I thought the question of what is the purpose of the recess and lunch breaks needed to be addressed with the teachers generally.

So what do you think? Should the teachers be organising who the children play with and what they do during their recess and lunch breaks or should it be totally up to the children (within normal bounds, of course)?


Anonymous said...

I don't believe teachers are qualified to make those sort of assessments.
They are not trained to do so, and their decisions will be biased toward their emotional beliefs.


Suldog said...

Totally up to the children is my vote. I know that, when I was a kid, I viewed recess in the same manner you do - a break, and a way to relieve stress. I wouldn't have been able to articulate it as fully then, of course, but it was that. If I had been subject to pairing with other kids I didn't know, or didn't particularly like, I would have dreaded it every day.

DaddyBear said...

Recess and lunchtime play is supposed to be an opportunity for the children to play free from direction. Free play allows them to destress from their lessons, and helps them to learn socialization outside of rigidly controlled classroom situations. There will be Lord of the Flies incidents, but that is also necessary for the children to learn to deal with reality.

If these were my children, I'd insist that my kids not be used as a teaching instrument for other children during free play time.

I hope this works out. Sounds like Miss 9 is having a rough time of it.

Old NFO said...

She should be allowed to play with HER friends at recess and lunch both. Skul hits the nail on the head too!

Christina RN LMT said...

I agree with the other commenters. Let the kids play with whom they want to and relax! School is stressful enough, they should be able to unwind during recess.