The other day I heard about a bill to mandate recess in my state. The proposed law would require elementary school students to have at least 20 minutes a day of “supervised, safe and unstructured free-play recess.”
20 minutes? That floored me. Elementary school kids are approximately 6-11 years old. When my kids were that age, their entire lives revolved around free play.
I confess. I homeschooled my kids, and the curriculum was recess. They played from the time they got up in the morning until the time they went to bed at night. If they wanted to do it outside, they went in the backyard to swing on the rope swing, climb the giant silver maple, commune with the ducks, or build fairy houses. If they wanted to do it inside, they built with blocks, nurtured dolls, paraded around in hoop skirts or tutus or capes, made puzzles, or drew pictures.
At the park, they ran around with their friends, created their own games, and waded in the brook. On nature walks they collected rocks, roots, twigs, and leaves that became vehicles for imaginative play. At the beach they swam, made sand castles, found shells and hermit crabs.
With their friends they created elaborate make believe societies, taking on various roles within them. They staged elaborate tea parties and pretended to be fancy grown-ups conversing and nibbling. They built puppets out of socks and yarn and put on shows in a theater made of cardboard.
While they drew pictures or knit hats they listened to the recordings of favorite storytellers like Odds Bodkin, Sharon Kennedy, Jim Weiss, and the Storycrafters spinning tales of magic and mystery. At the library they combed the shelves and chose piles of books that we read together, nestled snugly on the cozy couch.
I know there are many studies that show the benefits of play, like enhanced problem solving, creativity, self-regulation, and more. I found that making recess our curriculum made us all happier and more relaxed.
My kids are all grown up now, doing things they love. They engage in serious work but the spirit of play, of curiosity, open-mindedness, exploration, and joy, stays with them. May it stay with us all.