Saturday, May 5, 2018

Don't Deny Kids Rights to Play: Recess is a Privilege all Kids Deserve

My sister-in-law works for an organization Right to Play which is an international non-profit that brings educational play to children most at risk as a way to save lives and support social-emotional growth.  Play has been strongly linked to developing children's social skills, attention, and mood.

So this week when I found out my son was in trouble at school, which in turn resulted in his "right to play"  detention in the principal's office until the end of the school year, I was upset to hear his "right to play" was given as the punishment.  You bet I am going to advocate for his "right to play".  

As a momma-bear of three kiddos the importance of exercise and mental health is what wakes me up at 6 am to practice yoga and 7 am on the weekends to shakey-shakey for Zumba. And like other moms around the world waking up at 8am on Saturday is now common practice if you are going to make a 9 am baseball game. The right to play is very important to adults and children regardless of where you live or what you do professionally everyone needs to play.

You bet I am going to advocate for his "right to play".  

In previous posts I have discussed the importance of movement especially with boys whose brains are wired differently than girls and they need to physically move and be actively involved. On top of my son's week at school in which he was denied the right to play (your probably wondering why) this is also state testing week.  State testing for fourth graders is long and labor intensive.  It requires kids to sit at a computer for an extended period of time and answer questions that require higher-order thinking (some might disagree with this statement).  There is also a significant amount of research that links students academic performance to physical activity.  That's right if you want to boost brain power you need to let kids run and play.  

What's worse is I did not find this out from his teacher who called me on Monday to remind me his book project is due, but from my son who spent the week in the office.  I asked if everything was okay because he appeared sluggish and depressed by the end of the week.  His right to play was denied.  

Can we just get on one page when it comes to recess, kids need the right to play.  And when it comes to classroom management, if you are going to give a consequence then the consequence should match the incident.  Let the kids own what they did and take responsibility for their actions in a way that is positive and supports their growth.  

When things happen we need to take it as an opportunity to grow and develop and this is especially important for children who are learning to navigate their way in this world and in schools that are driven by testing and state standards.  

And if your son's mother just happens to be a teacher educator don't be surprise if you get called out for denying a basic right even prisoners get everyday. 

That's all folks! If you want to write a comment I will respond.  Don't forget to join the digital discussion on my facebook page.  


  1. I completely with your decision to advocate for your son to have the "right to play". This should not even be a phrase. As an education system we have to come up with a different kind of consequence for students. Children need to run outside and get their energy out so when they come back into the classroom they can remain focused. It has been raining a lot up in northern California so my students have been forced to have indoor recess. Even though they are playing inside, I can tell a complete difference in my students ability to stay focused. They want to be outside and they have even expressed this to me. What are some peoples ideas on age appropriate strategies for students in kindergarten that does not require taking away recess? I would love to hear from you.

  2. Every child deserves the "right to play." Taking away play time, in my opinion, should not be an option as a consequence for a classroom behavior incident. Play is an important part of learning and development. Children need time outside of the classroom to run around and be "free" of academics to get refreshed and come back in ready to learn. While playing, children develop creativity, use their imaginations and develop physical strength. They learn to share, take turns and interact in the in environment in which they live. They can interact with children who are in different classrooms. Play time allows children to be free and explore their world while clearing their minds to focus on the academics.

  3. Have you tried GoNoodle it gets kids up and moving with video based kinesthetic activities. Also consider movement in you instruction from math relay races where kids walk quickly to board for problem solving to counting with jumping jacks

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  6. Dr. Dickenson I agree with your post 100%. Just reading what your son went through made me cringe. I have friends that will call me or text me as I am a educator asking me if a school is allowed to discipline their child by taking away their recess. I tell them it is up to the school. I was taught when you take their outside time away, and you are taking away the process of the brain waking up to work. You are also isolating them and opening the doors for other children to tease and bully them because they do not know something or are titled as the "bad" kid in the classroom. As educators, you sometimes don't know the reason for their actions but right away want to discipline other than working with a child.
    I went to a training where the presenter told us if you want a child to listen, you need to get them moving before an activity. It can be going outside or doing a movement activity inside the classroom like a dance or stretching. That stuck to me, and before we do our small group, we do some movements, and before storytime, they go outside to play, and when they come back inside, they are tired and relaxing as they listen to the story.

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  8. I greatly appreciate your post and you are advocating for your son's right to play. I had a similar issue with my son's school using recess as a response to poor choices. Is it an issue of the training that teachers receive that they feel that taking away "play" from a child will correct classroom management issues? How can teachers be encouraged to use alternatives to taking away recess or other physical activities to correct classroom management issues? I think it needs to start with the administration setting policy and providing professional development opportunities for teachers to learn alternative strategies.

  9. Yes! I definitely agree with your statement, “right to play”! When you mentioned a basic right even prisoners get every day, made me cringe! It is so true and to see this happen to our young students. I have seen this scenario with your son in past job experiences. It’s discouraging to see that it is the consequence to lose play time. I use to see Kindergarteners in trouble sitting against the wall and losing recess time. Though I would think to myself, this is just a revolving door because once they go inside and behaviors will start occurring again. They need movement and outdoor time to play. Uninterrupted playtime. Recess has been limited in the school system and then they wonder why students can’t sit still in the classroom. There are so many benefits of outdoor play. Children are able to connect with nature, explore, be creative, and use their imagination. Outdoor play is beneficial to a child’s developmental domains; socially & emotionally, cognitively, physically, and through language. It is crucial that children have the “right to play”! ...Diana T.

  10. Hi Dr. Dickenson!
    I completely agree with your thoughts based on the situation your son went through. Play is an important aspect for any children especially when early childhood educators are told that play is how children learn the best. I agree with that statement as well! If children are not playing, they could begin to lose focus or become sluggish, as you mentioned. I do understand if children need to give some minutes during play time to speak about the expectations of the child, but I do not agree with taking it away completely. For example, I know some teachers who set a 2 or 3 minute timer during recess time to sit and speak with the child about the expectations and then the child is allowed to play. Additionally, it is recommended that children are outside for one or more hours a day. I am sorry though that you had to hear it from your child after the whole week had already passed. The teacher should have mentioned it in a message home and then you could have worked something out to advocate for your son. Whatever your son has done, his "right to play" should not have been taken away in the first place. Thank you for sharing this blog post!
    -Joanna F.

  11. Hi Dr. Dickerson,
    I truly enjoyed reading your post. The right to play caught my eye and I wanted to read more regarding your take on it. I was completely appalled to hear that this outlet was used as punishment on your child, especially during a stressful week. I agree with your statement, "If you are going to give a consequence then the consequence should match the incident." Prohibiting a child from from a basic right is such an old school mentality. It's not really a punishment but almost like a (excuse my harsh words) torture tactic. If they are sitting for long periods of the day, then because they "got in trouble," they need to sit more is completely unfair. Your son is very lucky to have you advocate for his needs, I hope the school was able to reevaluate their discipline methods.