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Recess Matters

Like many of our students, one of my favourite “subjects” at school was — and remains — recess. As a kid, recess was both “me time,” an opportunity to literally and figuratively shake off the morning, and “we time,” a much-needed opportunity to build friendships. Recess was the class where I was the one who gave out the grades: An A+ on the day I won at dodgeball; a C- when it rained and we had to read quietly at our desks; an F that time when no one wanted to hang out with me so I sulked at the far edge of the playground.

Recess at Bialik is a time when children get to move, play, create, imagine, learn, compete, cooperate and solve problems on their own terms — all with adult supervision yet with limited adult direction. It is with this supported autonomy that children activate the social and emotional skills they learn from their parents and from their teachers. Safety is our top priority, yet we encourage our students to take calculated risks and learn from the “blessings of a skinned knee” as well as from difficult interactions with their peers.

As we all know, recess can also be a place and space in which children experience peer conflict: disappointment at losing a game; concern about being left out; minor scuffles; raised voices; and hurt feelings. All of these social challenges are perfectly normal and an expected aspect of child development. We know that it can be difficult to remember this when it is your child who comes home with a difficult playground story, and we fully appreciate the instinct to intervene. 

School is a safe place, a venue for learning, growing, making mistakes, and moving beyond them. We invest time and resources in supporting all of our students’ social and emotional growth and take that responsibility as seriously as we do the investment in their academics. Recess is carefully monitored, with teachers making thoughtful decisions as to when to engage and when to hold back. We watch and listen, and when necessary we intervene. We have a process for exploring social challenges with appropriate consequences for behaviours that are outside of our values and norms. At Bialik, we utilize a restorative process of recognition, healing and forgiveness. Likewise, we believe deeply in the Jewish concept of t’shuvah — turning the bad into the good. 

As with all aspects of Bialik life, even recess is a time when we rely on the school-home partnership. Children often come home and spotlight moments in which they experience something different or challenging. If your child shares that something went awry on the playground, we encourage you to try the following at home:

  • Listen. Let your child speak their mind without interruption.
  • Ask your child to think about their own role in the interaction.
  • Focus on problem-solving (rather than problem escalation).
  • Empower your child to use their voice and agency to seek teacher support when necessary and also to solve the problem independently whenever possible. 

This approach will mirror what we do in school and will help your child feel supported in consistent and constructive ways. Likewise, please encourage your children to use recess as a time to move their bodies, try new activities, and bring their best selves in sport and creative play. 

If your child is involved in an altercation at recess that we feel warrants your attention, or if we have ideas about how to improve the recess experience for your child, rest assured we will reach out to you. Bialik staff are always available to families if there is an issue that has not been resolved.

Thinking back to my own playground days, I now see that what felt like play, was really a tremendous learning experience. Scoring a goal was proving to myself that I could do hard things. Losing a race was a lesson in humility. Acting out a scene from a favourite movie was about collaboration and collective creativity. Even being excluded and having to play on my own, while sad for me as a child, was an opportunity to tap my inner strength and learn the virtue of forgiveness. This “time off” each day was time very well spent. 

One more thought about recess: Children learn what they live. Especially at this time of limited socializing, make time to play with your kids. Model good-sport competition. Run around and be silly. Toss a ball around. 

Let’s demonstrate the joy of recess… and don’t let the kids have all the fun! 

David Cohen

Vice Principal, Elementary Division