When Kathy Lauer-Williams’s son was in elementary school in Allentown, Pennsylvania, he would often lose recess as a punishment for forgetting his homework or a signature on a form. Troubled by the teacher’s habit of taking away recess, Lauer-Williams wrote about it on her blog and spoke to other parents. She found that she was not the only parent questioning this practice. Despite her attempts to talk to the school, she says nothing has changed.
Taking away recess has become a common practice among teachers trying to rein in unruly students. A study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that 77 percent of school principals reported taking away recess as a punishment, while a 2006 study found 81.5 percent of schools allowed students to be excluded from recess. While teachers may think taking away recess is an effective way to punish students for bad behavior, recess plays an important role in children’s development. Research shows the value of recess: It gives kids a much-needed break from intense studying, teaches them social skills, encourages them to use their imagination, and allows them to exercise.
So why is this practice so prevalent? In her work mentoring teachers, Olga Jarrett, a professor in the College of Education at Georgia State University often hears teachers express frustration and a sense that they have few other options for controlling misbehavior in their classrooms. At one event where she discussed the importance of recess, a group of teachers from the same school asked, “What do we do? We make lunch silent, we keep them in at recess as punishment. What else do we do?” This feeling that teachers have few options for maintaining discipline in their classrooms is backed up by online discussion groups, such as pro-teacher, where educators debate approaches to classroom management.