With the school year around the corner, I am spending a lot of time thinking about this last year—my first teaching at a private school—and evaluating what worked and what didn’t. One problem I encountered was keeping my students engaged, especially the hour before lunch. In my research, I stumbled across this article written by an American teacher working in Finland, and I think it might hold the answer to my dilemma.
In Finland, for every 45 minutes of instruction, children get a 15-minute recess. At first, the writer of this article poo-pooed this seemingly extravagant waste of class time, instead teaching two 45-minute sessions followed by a 30 minute break.
It was a disaster. Following an emotional conversation with a boy going crazy with the new schedule, he soon realized the wisdom of the 45 on, 15 off pattern.
Since our liberal arts school is small and doesn’t start until sixth grade, recess is nonexistent. The students sit through a one-hour convocation hour, followed by three hours of class time before lunch. Lunch is 25 minutes, followed by three more hours of class.
For my 10- to 12-year-old sixth graders, that is a lot of sitting. Without a prescribed physical education hour, these kids get pretty restless by mid-morning. When homeschooling my own children, such restlessness was a non-issue: When they got wiggly, out they went, to jump on the trampoline, run around our acre, or dig in the sand pile. Back inside, they were much more content to sit and write or do their math problems. Such flexibility is one of the greatest advantages of homeschooling.
I realize the logistical difficulties larger schools have with frequent recesses, but I wonder how many more students we will dope up with Ritalin before we admit that kids simply need lots and lots of time to play.
This year, I will teach 13 sixth and seventh graders, all of them … girls. When considering how best to keep them interested, I know that physical play has a big role. So I was delighted to come across a copy of Anna Banana: 101 Jump Rope Rhymesin the bowels of my book shelves. What better to do at least part of each school day with a gaggle of little girls than skipping rope to the catchy rhymes I grew up with? Cinderella, dressed in yella, kissed a fella …
Time will tell how effective incorporating play into my student’s school day will be. My guess is, with some fresh air and a chance to stretch those muscles, they’ll have the best school year ever.