Childhood learning · Folklore

Leave the Kids Alone!

According to today’s Wall street Journal, in many schools, those in charge of the school day realize that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to do away with recess.

They’ve decided kids need to let off steam. (Who knew?) They concede that “recess can even improve emotional and social development in children.” And indeed it can, if children are allowed to play on their own without direction or interference. But that’s not exactly what these educators have in mind. They’re educators, after all, so they’re determined to educate. The result: “organized recess” complete with coaches. Sounds like gym class to us!

Fortunately there are other experts who value unstructured play. Debbie Rhea , professor of kinesiology at Texas Christian has developed a program based on a Finnish model which is in 16 schools in Oklahoma and Texas. It provides for four 15-minute recess periods per day, ethics and character teaching, less standardized testing, and restructuring of the school day. More power to her!

  • Forty years ago we wrote a book, One Potato, Two Potato: The Folklore of American Children. We discovered that children’s folklore—the traditional games, jokes, stories, songs, superstitions, and pranks that have been passed down from one generation of children to the next without the benefit or sometimes even the knowledge of adults serves important functions in the lives of children. This folklore flourishes only when children are left alone to practice it as they play.

One Potato, Two Potato is still in print, available from Amazon. However, used copies are also available from for around $1.50 plus postage.






2 thoughts on “Leave the Kids Alone!

  1. True, true, true! It is such a different world from the one I grew up in. I think recess, real recess, is more important now than ever. Kids don’t go outside anymore. I mean, really. When my son was little I took him to the park and watched him like a hawk. When he was a little older, I watched all the outdoor play because I was worried about the traffic on our street, the crazy sex offenders that apparently lived in the neighborhood and God knows what else. I had heard about “Free Range Kids” and wanted to be brave enough to be a free range mom, but I wasn’t. So then, he stopped even wanting to play outside. The computer had lots of fun games and you can play with your friends and talk to them while playing and you don’t have to leave your living room. He turned out great. Greater than great. But I do think he missed out on that wonderful “kids only” time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do believe (I hope!) a realization is growing among educators that outdoor play is important for many many reasons. We have just gone crazy trying to cram more and more subject matter into the school day—and standardized tests to boot. Now if Betsy can do something to return the school to local jurisdiction, that would be a wonderful step forward (or backward, or backward/forward.


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