As I’ve written myself, when I was more of a scholar than a blogger, “Knowledge alone, untempered by the wisdom gained from applying it in the untidy context of experiences with others, is not always a good guide to making decisions or choosing a course of action.”
OK, I admit that sounds pretty stuffy, but put another way, what we know isn’t worth much until it gets used, and using it involves dealing with other people. This forces us to come to terms with the fact that what we think we know may be very different from what they think they know. Learning how to be open to the views of others lies at the very heart of what it means to be educated.
You may be wondering what on earth this has to do with recess anyway. It has a lot to do with it. All the ingredients for learning are there, but they’re unplugged at recess, free of the familiar categories of math, science and reading. Instead, learning is all tangled up with interacting with other children, just as it is in the real world that waits for them outside the school door.
Speaking of the real world, I’ve been very struck at recess with how badly children want to do the right thing, or the helpful thing, and how often they do exactly that. From letting me know if someone is hurt, or picking up garbage to “save the earth”, or making sure that Slimey the worm has enough air (see previous posts), there’s a goodness and altruism about them that we need to cherish. Many schools actively nurture this by rewarding the good things that children do rather than simply waiting for them to do something wrong and correcting it. The children also learn the language that goes with making good decisions that are considerate of others. These schools are purposeful about emphasizing the way we are together and how much we depend on each other. It makes a noticeable difference in how children act.
I saw this in action at Westwind Elementary School late last fall. A group of grade 3 boys played Four Square every day during recess. This is involves getting a ball in in one of four squares and hitting it to another player before it bounces more than once – or something like that. Games with complicated rules are very popular with older children at recess. No more aimless running around for them – it’s all about play with purpose.
As we were going back into the school after recess, vice principal Liz Taylor stopped three of these boys and told them that she’d noticed that every day they had been putting all the balls and other equipment away without being asked. As Liz puts it, “The boys were showing us some “Blue Ribbon” behaviour, where kids demonstrate positive actions without being asked — simply because it is the right thing to do.”
As it slowly dawned on the boys that she was going to reward them for that, their faces were completely transformed. They lit up as surely as if the heavens had opened above them and bathed them in light. It wasn’t a look of pleasure about the reward itself, but a look of absolute wonder that what they had done was being noticed. All the rewards in the world couldn’t have produced that look on three small faces. For us it was the ultimate reward, and it couldn’t have been a better one.