More Reasons to Keep Recess and Competition

Coming off of Ms. Miller’s post about the importance of recess for developing social skills, and how it’s disappearance to make way for more teaching time (read: test prep time) is only becoming a hindrance,  I noticed another recess-related issue that seems to be causing more harm – banning competitive play.

The debate over dodgeball is probably the best known example since some think it facilitates bullying and is too physically dangerous, while others think that getting hurt and losing is a natural part of growing up (which it is).  And recently I’ve heard of some schools banning things like soccer and other ball-heavy competitive/contact sports because they are too rough, and banning playing tag because children tag too forcefully and it contradicts the “keep your hands to yourself” rule.  I’ve even heard of a school’s unofficial rule against children having a best friend because it puts some children in competition over each other’s attentions, makes other children feel isolated, and if children have a fight they then have to deal with pain of losing a friend.

I can understand the intentions behind these practices, but in the end all this does is shelter kids from the realities of the world.  Life is competitive, friends regularly come in and out of your life, sometimes you’ll lose a game, bullying does happen, and sometimes you will get hurt.  I’m not a parent, but I know that wanting to protect your kids from harm is the strongest, most natural instinct you can have, and that’s okay.  But continually trying to block them from all the negative things in life will only breed a false sense of security and entitlement that will alienate them even more in the future.  And using recess as a means of perpetuating this is no help whatsoever.

Rather than trying to stop competitiveness, we should be emphasizing good sportsmanship, and how to deal with the aftermath of losing.  If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again is a cliché for a reason.  Classifying a failure as the end of the journey is the wrong way to go about it.  Since we do learn from our mistakes, we need to make sure kids know that failure is only a bump in the road, and the only thing it leads to is finding another way to succeed, and that there will be a next time.  And with regards to the more naturally competitive kids who could use play as another means of bullying, we need to teach them how to accept the flaws and limitations of their peers and how to work together with them.  Putting a stop to one form of bullying just ends up shifting the focus somewhere else; we need channel children’s energies constructively, not push them away for someone else to deal with.

In addition to limiting physical outlets, cancelling recess kind of seems like another way to depersonalize the school experience, meaning that schools are trying to keep all the focus on academics alone, and not on how to deal with other people.  In the country’s frantic attempt to catch up to the academic achievements of other parts of the world, we’re forcing a test-heavy education on kids to make sure they know how to do rocket science with no real world applications, and how to analyze Shakespeare’s sonnets without knowing how to personally relate to the subject matter.

Banning competitiveness doesn’t just shelter kids from disappointment of losing, it limits social growth, creates a false sense of entitlement, and projects a non-realistic view of the world.  If we just focus on teaching kids how to deal with being unsuccessful in one area, we’ll ensure that we have kids to continue to push themselves harder to become successful in their own way.

Tracey Woodard
Tracey Woodard
tracey.woodard@franklinfound.org

<p>Our Senior contributor Tracey Woodard graduated in 2010 from Bucknell University with a BA in English – Creative Writing and Theater. An advid believer in the importance of public school education, she uses a mix of personal and learned experiences to express her thoughts on today’s most pressing education issues. She currently resides just outside of Philadelphia, PA.</p>

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