Step onto the Christ the King School during recess and you will be amazed at the activity. One group of kids might be playing house, another playing Star Wars and yet another playing tag. This is going on at the same time as kids are playing four square, kick ball, basketball, football, are jumping rope, or just walking and talking. On the side yard yet more kids are on the monkey bars, jungle gym or other play equipment. The kids feel safe knowing that the three recess monitors, Anne Gozdecki, Jenny Annee, and Emma Kalinowski are on hand with one or two parent volunteers. Our playground supervisor Anne Gozdecki says, "The recess rules are pretty much the same as your own parenting rules and the golden rules...treat each other how you want to be treated. No hitting, no fighting, no name calling, and listen to the recess monitors! There are other obvious rules, such as don't go outside of the parking lot gates."
We all remember recess on our childhood playground, if not our very own playground supervisor. Our recess memories can sound like tall tales to our kids. My recess was longer, kids were meaner and we had nothing but a dirty shoe to kick around. I also walked to school barefoot in the snow up hill all the way, and that was in South Africa! Actually, at my South African elementary school recess was also lunchtime and we ate sitting on the ground outside. The stray dogs who made our playground their home took care of any lunch we didn't want. Those dogs are probably the same reason we had no recess balls. It could have been worse. I could have been living in Churchill, Canada where polar bears periodically wander onto the playground and have to be tranquilized and airlifted out of town…
Christ the King School doesn't have a stray dog or bear problem but we do often have a stray car or two wander onto the playground; probably because the playground doubles as the church parking lot. If the car owner has gone AWOL we use our magical invisibility cones to cordon off the car. It is amazing the power of these cones. Anne Gozdecki makes the call regarding cars on the lot. "When the church has a funeral or there is something special going on at school we can usually cone off half of the parking lot and make that work for us. However, if the cars are all over the lot, then we usually head inside," says Mrs. Gozdecki. Inside for recess means Tuohy Hall or classrooms, depending on the PE schedule.
Tuohy Hall did not exist back in the 1970s and 1980s when Jennifer Priser was at Christ the King School. Instead there was a jungle gym. "We had playground equipment: climbing things and TALL monkey bars. Lots of broken arms, if I recall..." she says. Most of the hazards you remember from recess have been removed. No more 20ft slides with skimpy iron stairs and asphalt to land on Playground equipment is closer to the ground and kids land on softer mulch. Bones do get broken but not in the numbers of previous decades.
Snow is one thing we now consider a hazard but that kids enjoyed at recess back in the good old days. Jennifer Priser and Chuck Harr remember playing in the snow on the playground during the blizzard of 1978. The kids ran up and down what Jennifer and Chuck remember as a 15-20 foot snow pile in the middle of the playground. Chuck Harr says "We had really tall snow drifts on the playground and we would build tunnels through them." Nowadays, if it rains or snows or the playground isn't cleared, we head on inside.
Safety measures might have changed for kids but they still play the same old games they always have. "The most popular games at Christ the King School during recess were soccer, tether ball, kickball, basketball and dodge ball. We would hold tetherball tournaments all year long. These were very intense," says Chuck Harr.
"I'll second the tetherball tournaments. It was the great equalizer. Girls had as much of a chance as boys and it was so fun when some little 2nd grade girl could beat a big 4th grade boy! " Says Jennifer Priser.
One way your memory of recess is not exaggerated is your memory of recess being longer in your own childhood. At Christ the King School nowadays kids are at recess from 10:50 -11:15 and then from 11:20 to 11:45. "When I was at CTK, we used to have two recesses- one in the mid morning and one after lunch," remembers Jennifer Priser. Shorter recesses are blamed by many people for the rise in childhood obesity. Most parents agree that the lack of recess time is a problem for many reasons, but there is no clear solution due to state requirements and testing. . Anne Gozdecki says, "For my part, I think recess is one of the most important times of the day. Children can learn a lot during recess. They learn how to problem solve, how to communicate with others, and how to make friends."
Parent of three Christ the King School kids, Lina Parr, values the time kids get to exercise "As a pediatrician, I can't emphasize enough the benefits of daily recess. Not only is it fun for the children, but studies show that physical activity increases concentration later in the school day. It would be ideal if the middle students would also have recess on the days they do not have gym." Says Dr. Parr.
Jenny Annee, playground monitor and mother of five agrees with Lina saying "Being a mother of all boys, you realize how important physical activity can be, especially when they're expected to sit still for a number of hours at a time. Children at all ages need a physical outlet that isn't necessarily structured, but safe. We might be surprised at how behaviors improve, especially in boys, if we allowed middle school students a daily recess in the middle of the day."
Recess monitors and the parents who volunteer appreciate their time on the playground with the kids. Anne Gozdecki says, "They are good, clever and funny individuals. They make us smile and laugh out loud and some days they just surprise us! Just last week the 5th grade girls all came up and sang happy birthday to me, then the 4th grade girls did the same and then the 3rd grade girls followed suit, and then the boys chimed in with birthday greetings as well. If that doesn't make you smile nothing will!"
Joel at classroom recess
Joel at classroom recess