The playground at my elementary school had a huge rectangle of blacktop which served as our kickball diamond and where we played the game “colors.” See, in the far corner (away from the kickball diamond) was a map of the United States. The states were painted different colors and while one person called out a color everyone else had to scramble to a state that was painted that color. I don’t quite remember the point of the game. It may have been similar to musical chairs where the person who didn’t find a state was out. But then again, exact rules and winners weren’t always the point.
Sure kickball games and winners and losers, but we played other games at recess. The girls in particular favored the swings and jump rope and by the time we reached fifth and sixth grade, both genders took to the far soccer fields for co-ed games which usually featured the giant rubber ball we used for kickball instead of a soccer ball. For the record, the results of a soccer game played with a giant rubber ball are vastly different from any you would get with a scheduled and sanctioned youth league game.
This was recess. It was 15 minutes of outdoor fun either before or after lunch (depending upon the school schedule for your grade that year). We went outside in all kinds of weather. The only time recess moved inside was in really horrible weather. But for the most, neither rain nor wind nor snow would keep us from our 15 minutes of playtime. Those memories came flooding back this morning as footwear company KEEN sponsored a promotion today called “Take Back Recess.” The idea was to urge everyone — kids to adults — to get outside and play for 15 minutes. While some fans on the KEEN Facebook page have made recess plans, I think the best way to capture the spirit of recess is to not plan. Or if you do plan, to not think too much about it.
Recess is many things. It’s a time for physical movement. It’s a time to be outside. It’s a time to be doing and not thinking. And, to me at least, it’s a time for unstructured play.
Trust me, I am all for organized athletic activity. I love team sports. I love training. I love group workouts. But there is something about unstructured play that is magical, that is educational, that is soul-filling. I don’t have any children so I don’t know if recess is still part of the school day, but I think it’s vitally important. It not only helps kids burn off that energy so they can focus in the classroom better, but it opens up their imagination. It sparks creativity. It sparks curiosity. Hell, recess still sparks creativity and curiosity for me as an adult. It should be part of my daily life, too.
So today, I will take back recess. Oh yes, I know, I do quite enough in the realm of “exercise” thanks to my endurance sport training regime. While I love the structure of my training, there is something to be said for taking 10 or 15 minutes in the middle of the day to go outside and … do whatever the spirit moves me to do. Maybe it’s a walk around the block. Maybe it’s hopscotch. Maybe it’s a few yoga poses. The point is being spontaneous. Being creative. Being active. Recess might just be a key component of my day that I’ve been missing for the last 30 years.