Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Making Time for Play

I had a conversation one Friday afternoon with another first grade teacher. I said that I reserved the last 20-30 minutes of our day for 'free choice', basically play time. She said that was what she had planned to do, but was rethinking it because the students had been behaving poorly.

I think often of the fine lines we walk as teachers. They are everywhere. This is one I have been struggling with a lot lately (as a parent as well). When children are having trouble listening, sitting still, following directions, yadda, yadda, yadda, what is the best response for us to have? Should we take away privileges in order to get them to get it together? Or should we make that time for play because it is important?

Sometimes a play break might help students refocus. They might be exhausted (quite likely by Friday afternoon) and truly unable to control themselves the way we want.

I have stopped taking recess away from students for any reason. I stopped it years ago.

How do we know what is best for kids?


organized chaos said...

I was working on answering this question for an article I'm working on- I think it's such a fine line. The most important aspect, I think, is knowing the children in question. Some might benefit from the loss of privledge, while others will not understand it. I think it's that element of always keeping the child in mind- what can we do for the child to TEACH the behavior to stop, instead of simply stopping the behavior in that moment. Are we taking away recess or free-choice time because it makes us feel big and powerful as teachers, or do the children truly connect why they lost it?
And, the tricky thing is, I think it is different from every child. Some children may understand the relation, some just don't. Some may understand the relation, but it's not going to make a difference anyway.

When I was a classroom teacher I never took recess away, but I did use my 20 minutes of free choice to encourage good behavior. Everyday we started with 4 stars on the board- each star = 5 minutes. When the children were loud, off task, etc I simply erased half a star (2 1/2 minutes of free choice). They could always earn the star back- which was essential- they knew they could take control of their behavior.
I felt this at least had somewhat of a more logical connection- we only have time for the 20 minutes at the end of the day IF we get through everything we have to do quickly. If you're talking, it takes away our fun time- but if we get back on task, we can earn our fun time back.

That doesn't exactly fit into the whole "know the child" theory I wrote above, but it worked well for me as a whole-group motivator.

Scott said...

You pose some good questions. Often I think we take away just what the children need. As you note, sometimes what they need is time to run around or to play freely. A little of these activities can refocus them...or at least burn off some energy!

26lettersbooktalk said...

I SO agree with your post. Sometimes it just more important to go to plan B and let the kids blow off some steam. They are working a full time job (school) starting at six! You can only expect so much without allowing them some time to be kids! I can't believe teachers take away recess, they're really just punishing themselves!

jwg said...

Back in my elementary teaching days, in the year of the flood, every Friday afternoon in my classroom was "Noisy Toys Day". The blocks and Lego came out, kids were free to move about at will, and a good time was had by all. It was a tremendous opportunity for me to observe the kids, and even the kids who were struggling the most were productive and happy. I was a 1:1 tutor at my local elementary school for 10 years, specializing in "bad boys". All to
often I would pass by the lunchroom and find one of my kids sitting at a table finishing mindless worksheets while the others were outside playing. I quickly ran out of patience with classroom teachers who complained about my kids' hyperactivity and distractibility. I'm old enough to remember when we had playtime after lunch and a morning recess. Kids learned and I don't remember much hyperactivity among my classmates. Time to decompress should be a part of every child's day and teachers shouldn't be permitted to take it away as punishment.

Launa Hall said...

Recess should be in the same need category as lunch. Every child needs food to make it through the day, and every child needs a break, too.

Sarah said...

I've had two principals that didn't believe that recess was a worthwhile activity (k-5 schools). The kids had ten minutes of it at lunch and that was it. The younger kids especially just couldn't handle it!

I totally agree with you about play breaks!

organized chaos said...

btw- I'm memeing you- whats your real teaching resume:

Angela said...

I've taken away free choice time in a way that's similar to what Organized Chaos described, except I had little magnetic counters on the board representing minutes of play, and would take them away if students wasted instructional time with misbehavior. I would also add counters when students were exceptionally on-task so they could have extra time to play.

It was effective. But somehow I always felt miserly taking away ONE MINUTE OF PLAY TIME. Ugh. It was a bad feeling. And the whole thing was largely theoretical, since I didn't use a timer during free play and kids didn't really comprehend the concept of minutes, anyway.

And in the back of my mind, I was always wondering...isn't free choice time important enough that kids shouldn't have to earn it? They don't have to earn math instruction. How much do I REALLY value play? Most of the time, I just gave it to the kids freely, and was happy with that.

Teacher Tom said...

This is interesting, Jenny. I tend to have a fairly intuitive teaching style and haven't really thought about it, but you make me think. I'm working with preschoolers, of course, and it's a different environment that yours, but I've found that when the kids get squirrley, when they're goofing off and being too wild, my instinct is to just take it up several more notches.

If the kids are being loud, I'll sometimes just get loud too, drawing their attention, pulling them into a song or game that requires big motions and loud voices. I guess I'm thinking that if I can pull them together as a group, take them up to a sort of peak, we can all come back down together as well. I think it must be a vestige of all my years as a baseball coach.

I probably haven't described this very well, but it works pretty well for me.

luckeyfrog said...

I try not to take away recess, especially for those that need energy release, but I'm curious what your other consequences are.

In one particular case... I found nothing else that seemed to motivate him. I still made sure not to take away all of it, but I felt trapped. Can children lose other privileges in your class?

Jenny said...

luckeyfrog - ironically I often take away some of our free choice time. It's at the end of the day and it is not required (or even expected in first grade). However, I'm not sure that's a good idea either.

Typically students lose the chance to sit with friends, they may move from the group to an isolated spot to put their head down. In extreme instances I remove them to a classroom across the hall for a few minutes.

I don't have any good answers though. I think so much varies by student that no hard and fast rules will always work.