I did a little research on recess in schools and was surprised what I found. I thought I’d find a plethora of articles condemning recess. I was wrong. Instead I had to wade through the many articles supporting the importance of recess. I guess because my experience was one of fear and loneliness, that I assumed it was that way for others as well.

An article in Pathways to Family Wellness lists the many benefits of recess. Some examples are,

Recess increases focus…Natural light improves wellness…Reduces stress…Develops social skills,

…and more. The last item on the list is the one that stands out to me. Develop social skills? All it did for me was make me lonely, sad and afraid. Maybe what I learned is exactly what I was supposed to be learning – that my social skill was to feel less than. I mean, that’s the way it’s felt my entire life, and maybe school was the place for me to get use to the idea.

I look back on some memories and feel like I must not have been terribly unpopular. In the 2nd grade. I was pinned up against the kissing tree after all. What was the kissing tree? It was mostly a girl’s sport. A large group of girls would pick a boy and chase him around the playground. Once they caught him, they would push his back against the tree and would kiss him like crazy. It was silly, but it scared the shit out of me. Maybe those little gay genes were already twitching.

What about playing with the boys? Well, they were playing basketball and other sports and I was too inept to play any of those. None of them ever wanted me on their team, so I wound up always being one of the last ones picked.

Not many kids played marbles back then. It was a dying game, but there were a few players left. One of those few was Danny. Danny was big and mean and a bully. One day I was watching Danny and another kid play. I have no idea what I said or did but Danny pulled me up and was ready to beat the shit out of me. It’s cliché, but I was saved by the bell. I steered clear of him from then on.

In my murky self-pity mind, there is one memory that makes me think I must not have hated recess all the time. In the 3rd grade I got in trouble for something in class. Of course, I don’t remember why. My penalty was to not be allowed to go out to recess for the rest of the year. This left me angry and hurt when I should have been happy about this punishment. Instead, when recess started that day I decided to leave.

There were two roads that led to my home. One was paved, and one was dirt. I felt the dirt road was my safest bet. I was right. I was able to walk the 2 ½ miles from Bertrand Elementary School to my home without even having a car pass. When I got home, I told my mom that I was sick and that the principle, Mrs. Light, dropped me off. I always called Mrs. Light, Mrs. Light Bulb. To a third grader, that was hysterical.

I was sent up to my room and stayed there until I heard someone coming down our long gravel driveway. It was Mrs. Light Bulb. I knew I needed to hide so I ran out to the back of the house and hid amongst some vines on an embankment while she and my mom searched for me. When I thought the coast was clear, I climbed up and straight into the arms of my principal. She grabbed my collar, started shaking me and yelled a lot. My mom’s reaction was to yell, “Get your hands off of him!” The two of them argued a bit and Mrs. Light Bulb drove away. Mom abhorred violence and the principal had gone too far. She told me she thought it was odd that I’d just be dropped off, but saw no reason why I’d lie about it. I know my parents later met with the teacher, but I don’t remember the outcome. I think I was allowed to go back to recess so I could be bullied by the other kids some more.

When I was in the 5th grade. My family moved to North Carolina in the middle of the school year. It was awkward, but the kids in my class welcomed me. During lunch they talked about sports and who got to have me on their team. That fun lasted until we went to recess and they quickly learned that I couldn’t play any sport. No one asked me to be on their team after that. The moment that hurt the most that year was a day I was sitting on a step alone watching the other kids play. My teacher came up and kneeled beside me and I pointed out to her that the plane flying overhead was an American Airlines jet. Being kind she asked if I enjoyed watching the planes overhead and seeing what airline they are. Not knowing what to say, I told her yes. She kept me company for a few minutes. When she walked away I started beating the crap out of myself in my head. What kid in the 5th grade enjoys watching airplanes fly over? I did it because I was alone and had nothing else to do. Couldn’t she have understood that? She was very nice and I understand her heart was in the right place, but it only emphasized how alone I was.

What was recess like for you?

19 comments on Recess

  1. I only had one school that had recess, which was in Northern NJ. I enjoyed recess back then as I had a couple male cronies that I would hang out with, learning early on how to defend myself at recess against boys teasing me. Where I lived had city rules about such things, if you mess with someone, you got a shin kicked, or a foot stomped on and nobody tattled afterwards. When I moved to the suburbs of NJ this unwritten rule changed and I was the new kid. I didn’t play sports as being from the city, and so didn’t get along well with the rest of the kids. I was teased mercilessly by everyone for years, becoming ‘that girl’ that the class would pick on. I ended up getting in major trouble punching out a boy who had been teasing me and who broke my cherished “Menuedo” necklace. I stopped fighting back after that and just took what the popular kids gave me. It was a pretty miserable time.

    1. Who could blame you. It was a Menuedo necklace after all. 🙂 I’m sorry it got so bad for you when you moved to the burbs. Moves like that are tough adjustments for anyone, but I think especially so when you’re a kid.

  2. when i was small, kindegarten to 2nd grade, all the kids in my neighborhood were all friends with each other, one big group. after 3rd grade, i always only had one good friend and no other friends at all. as long as my friend was there, then recess was bearable, but if she was sick then it was horrible with the bullying, the isolation, the inability to ‘tattle’. i was lucky to always have one friend.

    1. That’s pretty much the way it was for me, kat. One friend at a time. In high school I did become friends with larger groups of people. There were about 5 guys I was closest with and they were all pretty popular. I don’t know how that happened. I still felt kind of like an outsider Like I was the sidekick.

      I’m sorry about the bullying and isolation. I’m glad to see schools trying to fight bullying. I don’t know how successful they’ve been.

  3. Bradley I’m so sorry that you had to go through all that. It really affected me when I read it My younger daughter is having problems at school during recess. Other third graders are being mean to her. They aren’t bullying her, but it just sounds awful. Honestly I don’t remember much about recess, and I think I’ve blocked out the painful times. I can remember a lot of other things that happened when I was in elementary school, so it’s not the ECT to blame! 😉

    1. I understand your dilemma. I have huge chunks of memory missing and I’m sure it wasn’t all bad. I just wish I could remember more of the good times.

    1. Thank you, Tone! I normally don’t accept awards, BUT I’m definitely accepting yours. I’m breaking my rule because I’ve had a good amount of new readers recently, so I’ve been planning a “Getting to Know Me” post anyway. The questionnaire I have to complete to accept your award is excellent for that. Perfect timing, my friend. It helps that I like you and your blog and am happy to link back to ya. 🙂 I’ll have my response posted next week. Thank you for the love.

  4. Like you, I was always alone. The one nobody wanted. And if, later on, someone did extend friendship, I withdrew. Those days were the beginning of my reclusive nature.

    1. 🙁 I think that’s true of may of us, Pieces. Sorry to hear they were tough for you.

  5. I don’t remember having any physical fights at recess but I do remember not fitting in anywhere. There were just a few kids I’d be able to talk with a little or play word games with but I still felt like I didn’t really belong.

    1. I always felt like I was in a bubble, Journey. A bubble all by myself just watching everyone having fun. Not feeling like I really belong was a common one for me too. .

  6. I’m sorry you had such bad experiences. I usually hung out by myself at recess, sometimes finding a hidey hole to read in or daydreaming. My son’s school only gets 20 minutes of recess, but they have so much cool playground equipment and it’s a lot less isolating than when we were younger (I remember the boys also going off to play the sports then).

    1. 20 minutes? It would seem that by the time they all got together and get outside, it’d be time to get back in. Thank you for your kind words regarding my experience. It was a long time ago, but I believed the feelings would connect with others. Looks like I was right.

      1. For real. They only get 25 for lunch. Again, by the time you get them all seated and help the younger ones get things opened and all, doesn’t seem like they can finish it. LM certainly doesn’t, although he’s always a slow eater.

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