Taking Away Recess: A Revenge Mindset

July 25, 2023

A little boy had recess taken away from him.

The reason?

He was standing at lunch.

They told him to sit down, and he did, but then he stood up again. As a “consequence” for non-compliance, he lost recess.

The little boy is a happy, energetic, on-the-go, sensory seeker. “Sitting still” is hard, so his body did what it thought was right. He wasn’t being defiant. He was responding to his body signals! In an over-stimulating, overwhelming lunchroom environment, this child provided his body with some much needed sensory input. It was a self-regulation strategy and he was punished for it!

But the schools don’t understand that.

Instead, they saw him as non-compliant. They felt he wasn’t listening. They were angry he didn’t obey them. Their solution? They took away THE ONE GUARANTEED OPPORTUNITY FOR MOVEMENT from a child who needs to move. It’s the height of hypocrisy, it’s counterproductive because he NEEDS the input in order to meet expectations, and it’s mean!

It doesn’t matter that it’s illegal to take away recess in the state this child lives in. It doesn’t matter what the research says about physical activity and academic performance. It doesn’t matter what the American Academy of Pediatrics says about recess. They were going to punish this little boy for not obeying them.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says recess is “crucial and necessary” for a child’s development and should NEVER be withheld to make room for more academics or as punishment. On top of the health benefits, recess also enhances creative thinking, focus, and social skills like cooperation and sharing.

So why take away recess? Kids like recess. Most kids LOVE recess! They look forward to recess. That’s why recess is frequently the first punishment to be doled out. It’s an easy hit. The student won’t obey? Let’s make him feel awful by taking away something that he really likes. It doesn’t matter that he NEEDS it. Their motivation is that he LIKES it, so this will “teach him a lesson”. This revenge mindset against young children is so prevalent in our schools.

We have to do better.

The strategy of taking away recess ignores the science, ignores the child’s needs, ignores the law (in this case) and is void of compassion.

Why do we have to advocate so hard for compassion?

Any adult in the room could have approached this child with compassion and “noticed” they were having a hard time sitting in their seat at lunch and ask what they needed. Maybe they needed to switch tables to the back so he could stand. Maybe they could have him be a HELPER and go for a quick walk to grab a spork for a friend! There are lots of solutions, but if you lead with insisting on compliance instead of leading with compassion, there’s only one ending…embarrass a child and make them suffer for simply responding to their body signals.

I will never understand how schools can tout ‘evidence-based’ strategies when it’s convenient for them, but ignore the evidence when it comes to discipline.

We have to do better.