Let The Children Play

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In an op-ed piece in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, a graduate student at the William and Mary School of Education advocates a change in the school schedule that I have long favored: more recess! Not physical education class, but pure, unstructured play time.

Legislation enacted in 2018 requires a minimum of 680 hours of instructional time per year in elementary school. The legislation allows, but does not require, that up to 15% of that mandated instructional time can be “unstructured recreational time.”

Shaughn Dugan, the graduate student, makes the case for more recess time better than I could. State standards require that each school day consist of 5.5 hours of instructional time. It works out that the recent legislation would allow for a maximum of 50 minutes of recess to be included in that 5.5 hours. Dugan points out that Richmond schools allow for only 30 minutes.

Back in the dark ages when I was in elementary school, we had two recess periods — a short one in the morning and a longer one in the afternoon. I cannot say for sure, but it seems that those two recess periods totaled at least 50 minutes. (In the afternoon recess, the older boys who had brought their bats, gloves, and balls to school would usually have a pick-up game of baseball.)

It is hard for young children to sit still and be attentive for long periods of time. That is probably even more the case after being cooped up for two years due to the pandemic. Allowing them more time to run around outside and release some of that energy will pay dividends in their school work and overall behavior.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


20 responses to “Let The Children Play”

  1. Kathleen Smith Avatar
    Kathleen Smith

    Most importantly, with proper supervision, kids will learn how to get along with others.

    1. Yes! When kids engage in unstructured play, they learn how to get along and negotiate their differences. They can’t learn that in a classroom. Teachers can’t teach it. They have to learn it by doing.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        I know this may come as a shock, but it’s unstructured interactions where things like bullying and worse can occur.

        Teachers have to monitor and intercede when the kids are doing bad stuff and apparently the parents don’t know and/or condone it.

        Young kids NEED structure.

        It was one of the big complaints when schools went to virtual!

  2. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    I hear you Mr. Dick. More recess will benefit some and hurt others. For my own 13-year-old daughter, recess and PE are a God send. They only school awards she has ever won were PE/Sports oriented. She benefited from that time, and I think it helped in the classroom. I would sign off on this if the school day or school year was extended. Way too many instructional hours are lost over the course of a school year. I know. I kept track one year and it was mind blowing how much school time is flushed down the drain.

  3. That’s an educational reform I could get behind!

  4. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Wait. If there is more recess breaks, and kids will be more attentive during instruction, then when will kids have time to stare out the window and daydream?

    Also move the start of HS to 9:00 from 7:00. Too many studies point to improved performance for the 15 to 18 crowd with later start times. Why do we fight the sensible backed by experimental results?

    Now, about Daylight Savings Time…


    1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
      James Wyatt Whitehead

      Moving the high school times failed. I know. We used to start in Loudoun at 7 am. Moved to 9:20 gradually over 25 years. The kids are still late to school, they stay up later into the night because they can, and they repeat both over and over because there are no consequences now for their actions.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Well, Loudoun… ’nuff said. Sorry James, but there are many positive results, including improved performance (if marginal) and better rested students. The first of these studies I recall was from Minnesota. Maybe latitude plays into it?

      2. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Besides, who knows what a sleep-deprived teenager might do? Especially one with access to a gun…

  5. Donald Smith Avatar
    Donald Smith

    If memory serves, the reason for cutting PE and play time out of class schedules was to free up time for more academics. Perhaps if families weren’t so maniacally focused on their kids getting into UVa, Georgetown or an Ivy, there’d be more time for PE in secondary schools.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      I think there’s a difference between PE and recess, more unstructured and loose supervision. In my day, recess was spent in pick up games of kickball, Red Rover, Mother May I, tag, etc.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        yeah, I don’t think “unstructured” is a good thing myself. In 3rd grade, they will call each other butt-holes and steal lunch money and worse.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          What? Didn’t you ever grab your “stick” M-16 and play Vietnam?

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            the truly dumb things kids will do if truly left to their own devices…. Most parents EXPECT the schools and teachers to keep their kids safe – including from other kids not well-parented.

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      yep. I wonder how much “play time” Asian kids get.

  6. walter smith Avatar
    walter smith

    Yep. I remember arriving at elementary school and being able to stay outside and run around, not go sit in some room waiting for the home room bell, then a real recess with kickball and touch football and jungle Jim’s, etc. And quit drugging little boys to make them act like little girls – they’re not!

  7. Bob X from Texas Avatar
    Bob X from Texas

    In 1960 our 2nd grade teacher, Miss Woods, met our class on the playground, lined us up, and had us scream like banshees at the top of our lungs for 90 seconds before we went to our classroom to start the school day. She believed that students learned better when they had some of their energy drained at the start of the day.

  8. John Harvie Avatar
    John Harvie

    I used to enjoy recess periodically in a sometimes perhaps beneficial way at Wm. Fox in the Fan (now a burnt out hulk). A certain unnamed individual and I would follow insults with some fisticuffs. Looking back on it it was probably pretty stupid but we got in some exercise and let off some steam. And as I recall the playground was macadam, not grass. A bit hard when/if you fell.

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    If kids are turned loose on a playground – they will still socialize – it’s what humans do. The issue is how will they socialize and unfortunately not all kids do wonderful things to other kids. Some parents are AWOL are teaching their kids how to interact with others and that job falls to teachers who have to teach some kids NOT to hit other kids, not to bully them , not to steal their lunch money or lunch, etc.

  10. ‘If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.”

Leave a Reply