A Classical Argument for Recess
Summit is a Classical Christian Grammar school which prides itself in an excellent, age-appropriate curriculum and a wonderful teaching faculty. In spite of all that, ask almost any student in our school what their favorite subject is and they will invariably respond, “Recess!” On the front end that response suggests there is something wrong with our academic program but, upon reflection, there are reasons why this response makes total sense.
For some reason a distinction has been drawn in schools between play and learning; i.e., there is a time to play, and there is a time to learn, and the one has little to do with the other. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially for a Grammar level student. For this student play is not a trivial thing. Someone has rightly said, “Play is a child’s job.” As they play, children learn about themselves, their environment, people and the world around them. During play, children learn to solve problems and to get along with others. Play is like a petri dish for the imagination. Children enhance their creativity and develop leadership skills as they play. This, in turn, contributes to healthy personalities, and we could go on and on.
In his great book, The Seven Laws of Teaching, John Milton Gregory outlines the necessary fundamentals of a good learning environment. Gregory’s third law is The Law of the Language, “The language used in teaching must be common to teacher and learner.” In other words, the effective teacher must understand and implement the learning language of the student. It is my opinion that the learning language of a Grammar level student is a four-letter word: P L A Y. By its very nature the Classical Model of education is sensitive to the development of a child as a learner. The Classical educator seeks to “teach with the grain,” not against it. To teach with the grain in Grammar school is to employ play-time as both a tool and an ally.
With this in mind, a case could be made that recess is one of the most important educational periods in the daily schedule of a Grammar school student1. In a school like Summit, which lifts up the privilege and responsibility of parental involvement, the opportunity for participating in recess offers a spectrum of rewards. As previously mentioned, play is not a trivial activity for a child, and when we play with our children, tremendous relational bonds are built which, in their turn, lend credibility to other academic subjects. Data consistently shows that the richest play takes place when the adult takes an active role and plays alongside the child2, rather than just providing toys or supervision. Often the best strategy here is to let go of our need to organize, and join in at the child’s level, letting the children determine the direction of play (recess presents a great opportunity for parents to rediscover the child in them3). Therefore, optimal adult supervision of recess at Summit should not only provide oversight, but also involve participation.
Another key aspect of the Classical model is touched on in the principle, en loco parentis; that the education of the child is, first-and-foremost, the responsibility of the parent. Even were it fiscally possible to hire staff to oversee recess, it may not be preferable in the long view. Recess provides a Summit parent with an excellent opportunity to play an active role—by playing, not just with their own child, but also with their playmates. At Summit Classical Christian School we seek to provide an optimal learning experience to our students across the board—including recess. This requires the active participation of parents as co-educators, especially during the crucial periods of recess.
God bless you all,
Dr. Timothy Orton
Summit Classical Christian School