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Here's One Way to Wreck a Child's Education: Take Away Recess

10/24/2013 12:05 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Recess is the only "subject" my 9-year-old will talk about.

I don't even bother asking him how school is. He's a good student. An excellent student. A veracious reader. I'm not telling you this to brag. I don't have an "honor roll" sticker on the back of my car. I'm telling you this because my child will not answer any question about school positively.

The only thing he will talk about is recess. In recess, there is a hierarchy. There are kids who cheat. There are kids who can help him troubleshoot rainbow loom issues. There are kids who will challenge him to be a better basketball and soccer player. There is freedom. There's downtime. There's time to think outside of the desk he is chained to all day long.

I get so much detail about recess that it's hard to believe it's only 30 minutes of his day. But to him, it's everything. It's his world. Yet, according to a new article in The Atlantic, taking away recess has become "common practice among teachers trying to rein in unruly students." Says The Atlantic:

A study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that 77 percent of school principals reported taking away recess as a punishment, while a 2006 study found 81.5 percent of schools allowed students to be excluded from recess.

I understand that teachers are trying to control their classroom. I know many of the classrooms give rewards as well as take-away reward systems. But taking away a crucial part of a child's learning -- play -- is unproductive when getting a kid to sit still. My husband, a special educator at a top New York City Public school that is centered around collaborative learning, will often instruct his students to take a walk up and down the school hall if he thinks they're getting too fidgety at his or her desk.

It's a primal instinct to move around. And for children with ADHD -- which can sometimes feel like a majority of them these days -- taking away movement isn't just punishment. It's counterproductive. When the child is acting out inside the classroom, it usually means that they need to get the energy out. Not struggle in retaining it in. Also, in a world where our children are spending more and more time inside dominated by screens, why would punishment include more inside time?

But this is not just my opinion as a mother. This comes from the American Academy of Pediatrics. This comes from the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. This comes from researchers who insist that recess is an "opportunity for social interaction and creativity."

So, what do teachers and educators do? First, they have to look into other forms of discipline. (No, I and I'm not suggesting they bring back the nuns with paddles -- though I can tell you that my child would probably opt for a spanking over skipping out on recess.) Second, The Atlantic article also suggests alternative avenues like Responsive Classroom -- "an approach to elementary education that focuses on both pedagogy and encouraging a positive school atmosphere." Positive discipline programs through the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports program is also recommended.

In the end, teachers are going to have to think outside the box and fit the punishment with the crime. As Olga Jarrett, an Associate Professor in the College of Education at Georgia State University, says: "I think that teachers need to look for natural consequences of behaviors. If you're rude to somebody, you apologize. If you don't get along with the kids in your group, the teacher should arrange your seating [...]. There are other things that are appropriate for dealing with misbehavior."