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Does taking away recess work?

Date: August 21st, 2014
By: Polly Bath

Watch this video [3:02] about why taking recess away is often an ineffective consequence. I also share a couple other consequences you might want to use instead.

I’d like to share some thoughts about taking recess away as a blanket punishment. It tends to be the only thing that we can put our hands on, and we can’t think of anything else to do, so we take away recess. We threaten to take away recess, and we do it over and over, and often to the same child.

But you know, recess is a classroom. When we take it away, we take away those social opportunities that kids get to use with other children, with their peers. We also take away energizing the body and energizing the body actually energizes the brain. What we end up with is a child later in the day that’s either so hyper they can’t sit still or they’re more sluggish because they haven’t gotten the chance to get out and play.

If I have to conference with a child to touch base over their behavior in the classroom, I may delay them from going to recess for four or five minutes or maybe six, depending upon how long recess is. But I won’t keep them for the entire recess.

I want to do some sort of intervention. Just having them sit and doing time is not going to change the behavior. But five minutes of a little intervention could make a world of difference.

I recommend that you really think about a menu of consequences for things that you might have to keep the kid in for recess for. Maybe you look at your menu and you might pick out, you know, I really need to conference with this child.

I might do it at five minutes before recess. Maybe I’ll do it two minutes before lunch. Or maybe at the end of the day while kids are packing up their homework. I’ll touch base with them somehow to do that intervention.

Or, maybe a consequence might be a change of seating. A seat in the room where the child can sit and
settle down and do their work by themselves because they can’t seem to get themselves together today. Or maybe I assign them to a buddy classroom or I have the child design a plan to self‑manage and they have to check in with me to see how they’re doing.

Maybe it’s even a grade loss.

Those are some natural types of consequences that have a direct relationship to the behavior.

The problem with a blanket punishment, and keeping kids in just to do time, is that there is no intervention. It makes it more aggravating for us, too, because we often see that same child over and over.

Let’s face it, we don’t have a lot of time in our day to get some things done. Get them out for recess. If you don’t put them out for recess, you might deserve the behavior that you get later on during the day!