Students at McGrath Elementary receive a 20 minute recess daily. This is a time for students to take a break, talk to friends, practice social skills, go outside and play. While recess is not mandated by law in Michigan, it’s still an important time for students. In fact, we often have extra recess in our class earned from achieving math goals, getting compliments from adults, or making good choices during the week.

While recess has many important benefits, there is a skill that is even more important for students to cultivate–responsibility. That means there may be times when a student will be required to use their recess to complete unfinished work or to practice the correct way to engage in certain behaviors.

This is an opportunity for students to learn a valuable real-world lesson while the stakes are still relatively minimal: hard work results in rewards, lack of work results in lost privileges. If adults skip work, they don’t get paid. If they are late paying their taxes, there is a fine. If they don’t get their work done in the provided time, they may have to work overtime to finish. If they drive unsafely, they have to practice during a safe driving course.

Students need to learn this lesson of faithfulness and responsibility as well. If fourth and fifth graders are still struggling with this issue, they only have a short time to improve before the strict consequences of higher school levels arrive. Failure to complete work at the middle and high school level has real consequences involving detentions, in-school suspensions, failing classes, mandatory summer school, taking credit recovery classes or not graduating on time.

To help students form habits of responsibility, I may require students to use their recess for these purposes:

  • To finish a test, quiz or assignment not finished in class.
  • To finish a science experiment not finished in class.
  • To practice a routine or procedure the student has been doing incorrectly.
  • To finish reading their Literature Circles book or writing responses.
  • To finish cursive assignments not finished during the week.
  • To finish a piece of writing that wasn’t finished during the three-week work time of a writing piece.

Doesn’t my student need a break?

Breaks are important. We have about 15 minutes worth of breaks during passing time in the school day, 20 minutes of lunch, as well as 55 minutes of music, gym, or technology. These are all breaks. Passing time is a lot like recess. Students can come and go at will, talk to friends, move around the class, and play games on their chomebooks.

But if a student has been slacking in class, haven’t they already taken their break? They took their break at school or home when they didn’t finish their work. They were talking, sitting, or playing while the other students were working on cursive, writing, or working hard on other tasks. That’s their break. If they would like a break during school, they have a choice to complete their work on time.

Isn’t recess exercise?

It can be, for 20 minutes. But a better source of exercise is the multiple hours of waking time each student has after school daily, in addition to the weekends. If a student doesn’t have their work finished, they must have been using their daily work time for playing, maybe even exercising. Since they clearly didn’t take the home time needed to finish their work, they can use their school recess time. In the future, students are always welcome to choose to finish their work on time at home or school, freeing them up to exercise at recess. Exercise is important; responsiblity is even more important.

How long will my student have to stay in for recess?

When a student finishes their responsibilities, they can always choose to go to recess. If a student hasn’t taken the time to finish their tasks, they can use their recess time to finish. Students can catch up on missing work and assignments at home if they would like to free up their recess time.

It is my experience that some students need to make their own mistakes in this area. They will begin to learn that their actions have consequences. If they consequences and lost recess are unpleasant to them, they will learn to make better choices. Over time, fewer and fewer students are repeating the same mistakes and losing recess, and in the 5th grade year, it’s even fewer students. They have learned how to avoid problems, and this will serve them well in middle school and beyond.

Can my student just go to recess regardless of what they do in school?

Probably not. Can adults get paid regardless of what they do at work? Can students win an art contest no matter how they paint or draw? Actions matter and they have consequences. Students must learn this. If students don’t have time to finish their work, learn to follow procedures, or complete a writing piece, they will clearly need more time to finish. That extra time will come from their recess. They are welcome to return to recess when they finish the work that all the other students have already done. A proactive students solves their problems while they are still small. Working at recess and finishing at home shows a student that they are in charge of solving their own problems before they grow bigger.

More information

Please go to the Homework Policy for more information about missing assignments. In the words of Lee Cantor, you cannot allow your student to be indifferent toward homework. This habit of indifference will harden as years go by, and your student will struggle to solve their own problems without help from parents or others. A person who has allowed these habits to develop is at risk to become a blamer, blaming others and waiting for everyone else to solve their problems, always needing to be rescued by others.

This page last updated October 14, 2019 @ 1:53 pm.