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Summer Is the Recess of the Year

Summer Is the Recess of the Year
Emma Hamlin

In the classroom, easily one of the most highly anticipated moments of the day is the start of morning recess. The students who finish eating first assume their post at the window to watch for the teacher on recess duty, and then the very second that teacher steps a foot out the door, the words tumble out of their mouths “The-teacher-is-out-may-I-go-out-to-recess-please!?” There are also those who might dilly-dally, waiting for a friend or slowly sliding on their snow pants, taking an extra moment to connect with their teacher before heading out. All behavior is communication, and so much can be seen in how a child approaches recess.

For some, recess comes quite easily — for those who find sitting at a desk to be a challenge, the chance to be outside is blissful relief. For the gregarious who have spent all morning holding onto stories they want to tell their friends, it's a chance to chat to their heart's content. And for those who are more introverted or find the day to be a physical challenge, it's a time to build skills and strengths.

In Waldorf schools, the teachers on recess duty know each student and their recess needs, and as much as teachers are responsible for ensuring everyone's safety, they also spend time observing and coaching as needed. This is where much of the social curriculum takes place, and where we often see conflicts play out. In fairness, social learning takes conflict: Boundaries (physical and social) are tested, rules challenged, and all of this is part of the good work of a social education.

Recess also serves as a giant outbreath within the rhythm of the day. You can see this in the way the children pour out of the building at a run, taking advantage of space to run and shout. Games are led by the students' enthusiasms, rather than held or refereed by the teachers. There are still recess rules (inclusion, physical space rules, etc.), but the children follow their own interests, whether that takes them to the swings, the sledding hill, or anywhere in between. After they are thoroughly exhausted, the inhale brings them back into the school (perhaps a bit more slowly), only to exhale again at lunch recess, the second recess of the day.

In a similar fashion, summer vacation is the recess of the school year. After months of directed learning, students are ready for the exhale into the freedom  that summer has to offer. Perhaps for some families this means bike rides, swimming, play dates, camps, or weeks at grandparents'; for others, it may mean a later wake-up and a more flexible schedule. A freedom-from-school schedule allows children to catch their breath and grow in anticipation for the next school year. If you ever have exhaled as long as you can, you know that you can't help but inhale at the end of it, and as naturally as your breath re-enters your lungs, so naturally do the children come back to school excited to learn.

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