Oh, The Joy of Children! A Tale of North Windham Elementary Recess Program

By: Christopher Mathis

For this program, my team and I worked with elementary-aged students to engage them in structured cooperative play during their recess period. The goal of this program was to inspire healthy play with the children emphasizing sportsmanship, integrity, and respect. The program took place on Wednesdays from 11:15 AM to 2:20 PM at North Windham Elementary School.

As a volunteer for this program, it was my job to interact with the children during recess. My team and I thought of games and activities for all the kids who wanted to play. We didn’t want to disturb their natural order of recess, so we adapted to fit right in with what the students were already playing. Each shift was about 20 minutes and contained the different grade levels.

During recess I noticed the many habits and actions the children did. The children split into their own groups for recess, but it was never cliquey or divided. Students of different races, genders, and even spoken languages often played together. I also observed that there was a strong sense of community at recess. When a student was hurt playing or by another student, the children would rush to their aid, either helping them to the nurse or confronting the student directly. It was great to see kids helping each other in such a way, in a world where everyone seems to be against each other.

When I wasn’t playing with the children, I often engaged them in conversation. The students in kindergarten would talk about their friends, hobbies, and what they did in class. The older students talked about their home lives; some had parents that were divorced, were being raised by a single mother, and/or lived in troubled neighborhoods. I appreciated the students’ willingness to share sensitive information with someone they had just began to know.

I believe we had a positive impact on the students. I think they got a better understanding of cooperation, safety, and inclusion. The children definitely learned better by seeing the benefits of healthy play first-hand, rather than experiencing the consequences of unhealthy play at the hands of a teacher or administrator. I hope the students can translate these lessons to situations later on in life.

I learned that recess is an essential program for children to have. It is an important time for them to socialize with classmates, make new friends, and most importantly, release stress and built-up energy. Recess period has been cut to shorter times and even removed completely across the country. This is definitely a mistake because recess isn’t simply a time for children to ‘run around’, but a time to interact with peers. For some children, that period could be the only physical activity they perform, and we shouldn’t take that away. I loved my experience doing this program and I hope I can do it again.

To look at photos at this program, check out our Flickr account! North Windham Elementary School Recess Program