Bring back common sense

For the last two Sundays, “Bringing back recess” ran. While I agreed with a good deal of the article, I also had some reservations. These are my thoughts.

A few years ago, I was at a conference of education department alumni at SUNY Fredonia when a younger man got up and explained he did experience based research (which the department was advocating) showing that children functioned better when they had regular periods of exercise. I said nothing because it came at the end of the conference and I didn’t want to disturb the peace.

What I wanted to say was, “Why are you wasting time and money researching that?”

Although I make a donation to the college each year, I did write a letter to the education department at SUNY when I was asked for a targeted donation to the department. I refused to donate partially for that reason.

Talking about the need for children to have physical activity hit me like the recent series of Geico commercials. “Everybody knows that!” Apparently not.

I grew up in the days when kids in Dunkirk walked (ran) home for lunch and then met their friends and played before school resumed for the afternoon. In the warmer weather, if the class finished its lesson, our teachers took us outside to the playground. When I got home after school, my mom would tell me to change into my play clothes and go out and play until supper. We biked. We skated. We played tag. I have the scars on my knees to prove it. In the winter, we built snowmen, had snowball fights and stayed out until our mothers made us come in. I have lots of black and white pictures of snowmen we made to prove that.

I really don’t need research to convince me that kids should engage in physical activity. I just need to follow the good example I was given.

When I taught (in a Catholic school) over 40 years ago, we had a courtyard, but no playground equipment. The kids played kickball, dodge ball, spud and jumped rope during recess after lunch. If they seemed “antsy” to me, I took them outside, ran laps with them and came back upstairs, rested for a moment and then went on with the lesson. I saw that doing that helped the students concentrate. I played something with the class each day. Thank goodness for my own elementary teachers and my experiences at summer camp. I had a repertoire of “Simon says” “head and shoulders, knees and toes,” jumping jacks, stretching exercises, running in place, and simple dances.

There never was a question in my mind about whether physical activity and breaks are crucial for children. When I did some substitute teaching more recently, I was appalled to learn that children rarely go out to the playground anymore. In one school, children were not allowed to run in the gym during the afterschool program.

Nowadays, I believe I avoid many meltdowns with my grandchildren by taking them outside. We blow soap bubbles and chase them, we kick and throw a ball, we bike down to great-grandma’s house, we go walk on the beach, and we play on the playground equipment at the point.

One of my closest friends was a longtime teacher in a local public school. She was the last teacher there to take kids outside for recess and she did it even in the winter unless it was extremely cold. Her students built snowmen and played in the snow.

“Kids need to run and make noise,” she told me.

As we talked about this and other issues in education, we both came to the conclusion that maybe the grants and research are necessary because society has changed. Kids don’t go home for lunch and people no longer have the common sense that our parents did.

Come to think of it, it wasn’t my education courses at SUNY that taught me anything about physical activity. It was my parents, my teachers, and my camp experiences that did that.

What I would say about the current efforts to combat obesity is that I hope people don’t overreact. While I see obesity as a problem, some kids honestly do have different body types or are at an awkward age before a growth spurt. Chastising them is only going to cause more problems. Some kids will pick up on the issue and mercilessly tease the kids who don’t have a perfect body. They did that in my day and with an emphasis on the issue, it could get worse.

I believe that while team sports are a nice option, we need to be careful that they are not a breeding ground for snobbery, hazing and bullying as well as physical injury. As someone who went to school before Title IX and interscholastic teams for women, I am heartened by the better status for women but sad that intramural sports have seen a decline.

It is important that all kids get a chance to participate in physical activity, not just the athletically gifted. Individual sports such as swimming are crucial in filling that gap. Not everyone can be a star, but everyone can do something.

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