Today is My Son's Last Recess Because Adults are Dumb

Today is my son's last day of fifth grade. I could turn this into a "Where did the time go?" post very easily. It does seem like I went to Back to School night just a few weeks ago, and even further back I smile when I think of how excited he was to have played with other kids his age when we picked him up at the end of his preschool's parent orientation evening.

Time does fly.

But instead of looking back, I'm looking ahead. Unfortunately, I'm not looking at what's in store for him, but rather what's not in store for him. Today is a monumental day from which he'll never return.

It's his last recess.

Next year he goes to middle school, and when it comes to recess, middle school ain't got time for that. And the state of recesslessness is perpetual. No recess in high school. No defined recess in college. And the "real world"? Dream on.

While it's easy to think of recess as a childish endeavor, I think it's an example that proves sometimes children are smarter than adults. Kids understand the importance of recess. They might not understand why it's important, but they know it's important. Want to ruin a kid's day? Tell her that she has to stay inside for recess. There are no more disappointing words in the English language than indoor recess. Except for detention.

After hours of sitting at their desks and working hard and challenging their brains to do things they've never done before, kids understand they need a break. They need to get outside, breathe some fresh air, and cut loose. And I suspect they understand that it doesn't matter what they do. They can play basketball, or climb on the playground, or just run around with their friends, it doesn't matter. What's important is that they get outside and spend some time working their lungs and their muscles as much as they've worked their brains.

Most adults dismiss recess as something suitable for children, but as we "grow up" and mature, we're expected to make good use of our time, and running around aimlessly isn't good use of our time.


I think everyone would benefit from taking fifteen or twenty minutes in the middle of the day, going outside, and forgetting about all of the other bullshit happening in our lives. We could come up with some dumb adult name for it, since God forbid we continue to refer to it as recess.

In the hustle-and-bustle of becoming an adult, I think we lost touch with recess. We forget how much better we feel after a short break, and we don't realize that recharging our internal batteries makes the afternoon much better. I've experienced a 3 pm crash for years, and often I handle it by trekking to the vending machine and filling my face with peanut M&M's. But maybe if I'd spend some time outside during lunch I could make it through the afternoon without thinking that candy-coated chocolate is a reasonable solution for anything.

Some adults have figured this out. Those tech companies that have a ping pong table in the office are just adults who saw some kids playing at recess and didn't ignore the envy they felt.

Years ago I played croquet on my lunch hour every now and then with some co-workers. Breaking away from the office and spending some time outside provided just the sort of break required for a decent afternoon. I don't know for sure, but I bet peanut M&M's didn't find a home in my stomach very often when I spent some time aiming for wickets.

All the world's problems seem a bit more surmountable when you think of everyone spending part of their day at recess. Some distance from the adult seriousness that pervades our lives after fifth grade might offer a better perspective.

A few times I've arrived at school at the end of the day just in time to see my son outside for a bonus recess. He's usually playing basketball with his friends, and often has a smile on his face. Seeing that carefree exhilaration makes me just as happy as his success in his academic work, and I have no doubt that recess contributes to that success.

Even though he became a madman, I think Jack Torrance was on to something from which all adults could learn: "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."

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