Earlier this winter, my fourth grader made a passing comment about the movies they watched at school during recess.
“Really?” I asked. “You watch movies in school?”
“Yeah, every day.”
That meant every day for four months. It’s been a bad winter with lots of cold, snow and ice but even on milder days, the kids stayed indoors.
Along with movies on the big screen in the cafeteria, there were board games to play and Twister—with a few stories about so-and-so being embarrassed because he was caught underneath so-and-so’s butt. But news of the movies was a shocker. Here I was, calculating the amount of “screen time” my seven and nine-year-olds were consuming each day across their multiple devices and I hadn’t taken into account movies during recess.
What happened to exercise? Socialization? Figuring out what to do when no easy activity is at hand? Isn’t that the point of recess—navigating social circumstances that are sometimes uncomfortable, often enjoyable, messy, boring, or weird? Of course kids would prefer movies, but isn’t it our jobs as adults (parents, teachers, administrators) to provide the skills that will help them navigate the situations they’ll encounter in life?
One Mom Takes Charge
Turns out, a few other moms were up in arms about this whole movie business as well. Many other moms, didn’t even know it was going on. One, I’ll call her Mom-in-Charge, decided to act. She wrote to the school principal. No response at first and then an exchange but no solutions. She asked mothers for ideas and support. They sent creative solutions — use the gym or a multipurpose room, create an indoor Ga Ga ball pit by flipping some tables to create a fenced in area, put Wii dance on the screen instead of movies, make art centers at the cafeteria tables, try traffic cones for obstacles courses or hula hoops, whatever it takes to get the kids moving.
She wrote to the Superintendent who promised a meeting, which was delayed twice due to snow. But she must have raised some awareness because the kids started going outside every dry day when the weather was above 30 degrees. The movies stopped. The kids managed with their board games and Twister.
Finally, the meeting with the Super occurred and Mom-in-Charge presented her research from other towns (who go outside a lot more) and the list of suggestions. The Super promised to address recess with the principal. That was a few weeks ago.
An Odd Solution
This week, my fourth-grader came home complaining, for the first time, about recess.
“It’s horrible,” he said. “They moved aside some of the tables in the cafeteria and taped six big squares on the floor. Now we have to choose a square to sit in at the beginning of recess and we can’t leave it. I tried to sneak to another one but the lady caught me.”
“Can you, like, move around in the square? You know, exercise?” I asked.
“No! Some kids were wresting in another one but you’re supposed to be quiet. No standing or talking loudly.”
“So you need to pick your square carefully,” I surmised.
He frowned. “A bunch of moms complained and now we’re stuck with this stupid square recess.”
Yes, it does sound like a stupid recess. Movies replaced with a stiff system of rules, regimens, and little regard for how children need to —and can —interact when allowed some free time to play. Hopefully, the principal will share her rationale with the parents soon. But it could be that the students, themselves, will rise up this time. Their movies were taken away and replaced with taped squares on a dirty floor.
Disclaimer: A few months ago I also wrote a note to the Superintendent complaining about the movies and suggesting the need for creative solutions to address indoor recess. She didn’t respond.