One of the highlights of our day back then was when our harried educational technicians would high themselves off to the teachers' lounge for vodka and cigarettes while turning us loose on the cement playground, bordered with a six foot chain link fence topped with three strands of barbed wire (tilted in towards us). Like the budding young learners we were, we immediately began to test the physical laws of angular momentum, inertia and gravity on the tubular steel monkey bars and swing sets with iron chains. Not to mention the teeter totters that provided our first experience in catapulting, or the merry go round which provided innumerable experiments into the nature of centrifugal force. Or maybe it was centripetal force. We tended to get our terms confused while sliding across the asphalt on our face.
This was called recess and it was meant to improve our physical health, coordination, reaction time and social skills. At least for those of us who weren't taken away by paramedics.
Apparently, responsibility for this phase of childhood development has been passed from the schools to the video game industry.
Today many children get less free time and fewer physical outlets at school "because many school districts responded to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 by reducing time committed to recess, the creative arts, and even physical education in an effort to focus on reading and mathematics," the research team said in a study published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Hey, learning to play kickball isn't going to get you a job in the service sector," said one representative of the Department of Education who asked not to be identified.
Researchers reported that a growing trend of curbing free time at school may lead to unruly classrooms and rob youngsters of needed exercise and an important chance to socialize, Dr. Romina Barros and colleagues at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York reported. "Plus kids who get head injuries on the playground tend to be quieter in the afternoon.
The researchers also found that children not getting recess were more likely to be black, from poor families and attending public schools in large cities. "We have to be careful how much physical activity these kids get," said one school principal. "We don't want them to be in better shape than the cops who are eventually going to have to chase them for stealing some old lady's purse or something, you know?"
One earlier study found that free time has shrunk for U.S. children in and out of school since the 1970s, the report said. At the same time most elementary schools in Asia provide a 10-minute break after every 40 to 50 minutes of instruction, it added.," he added. "Hey, you think these kids are going to get a ten minute break every hour at Burger King, or TGI Friday's? We're just trying to get them ready for the real world, that's all."