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Houston Parents Get Schools to Restore Recess

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Read Time: 2 minutes

Seems like there are big changes underway in about a third of Houston’s public schools. The one that play activist Rusty Keeler brought to Let Grow’s attention involves what many of us remember as the best part of the school day — and maybe our childhoods.


Wait — what?

When the parents who run the advocacy group “Free Play Houston” looked at the curriculum for the upcoming school year at 85 of Houston’s approximately 300 schools, they were shocked to find something missing: Recess for the 5th graders.

The group campaigned to get it reinstated — and it worked! Recess was restored!

Two of the leaders of the group, Sabali Mpozi and Jill Wood, were invited on Houston’s Fox 26 morning show to talk about why this issue mattered so much. (Co-founders Brooke Longoria and Brett Sillers cheered from the sidelines.)

Recess is so special — and so different from the rest of the school day — because it’s the one time when KIDS decide what they’re going to do, said Wood. She considers it “cross-training” for child development. Free play builds kids’ social-emotional skills. And their brains get wired. And their bodies get a work-out.

What recess got replaced with:

But instead of free play, fifth grade recess had been replaced by something called a “dyad.”

The show’s hosts wondered what’s that.

We’re not exactly sure, Sabali replied. “We were told there’s going to be spin classes, dance, karate…which are still probably fun for children.” But unlike recess, she said, all those activities would be run adults. “It not, ‘Let’s play tag!'”

Let Grow co-founder Peter Gray says that free play is entirely different from adult-directed play because when adults are with kids, the adults are the adults and the kids are kids. It’s only when adults AREN’T running things that the kids BECOME the adults — that is, the capable, creative people in charge of themselves, and making something happen.

What kids can only get from free play:

“The things that children learn through their own initiatives in free play cannot be taught in other ways,” Gray has long said. That includes learning how to “solve their own problems, control their impulses, modulate their emotions from others perspectives, negotiate differences, get along with others as equals.”

In addition to bringing back recess for the fifth graders, Free Play Houston also convinced the schools not to divide the 30 minutes of kindergarten recess into two 15-minute chunks. Because everyone knows that 4 or 5 minutes of any recess is devoted to getting the kids out and back in.

Two great wins. Let Grow hails Free Play Houston! May their success inspire us all!

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  1. CCary says:

    Recess–the best part of the school day. Steel-barred scaffolds twelve feet high to climb on, slides of sheet metal to fly down, swings on long pendulum chains to leap from and experience a second of free-fall before plummeting onto the sand. Girls spinning around horizontal bars like acrobats and dismounting with flips through the air! Best of all–the steel merry-go-round for experiencing the violence of being tossed across the ground by centrifugal force–a lesson in physics! Baseball bats, football, tag, running, falling in the grass, and the occasional fist fight. I miss school in the ’60s.