The chains holding the swings creak as they go back and forth and children shoot down a slide. Recess is a time to set childhood energy free through games of football and tag. It’s joy and innocence –- it’s jump rope and hopscotch -– it’s ring-around-the-rosie and monkey bars.
However, ask a child to describe recess and what soon becomes clear is that recess in anything but balloons and lollipops. Instead, it mirrors the realities of our lives as social creatures and at times in the cruelest sense.
The recess bell rings, and for some children the sound signals the happiest and easiest part of the day, but for others, the same sound initiates a Pavlovian response, like that exhibited by Little Albert in the 1920 experiment.
Four types of children inhabit the playground: the Excluders, the Players, the Loners and the Leftovers. Once outside, a mad scramble ensues in order to either belong or to prevent others from this sense of acceptance. Interestingly, a child isn’t necessarily pigeonholed into any one group. On a good day, she may be in with the Players and on a bad day, she may be find herself one of the Leftovers or the Loners. Since group dynamics are powerful, she may start out recess as a Leftover, but end as a Player. It seems the Loners have it the worst – for many are not loners by choice, but rather by necessity. The energy required to be anything but, fades until surrender.
She sits alone on the sidewalk poking holes in the ground with a stick and observing the activity of an anthill, hoping another Leftover will come ask her to play.
The bell signaling the end of recess rings. The Excluders and the Players groan, while the Leftovers and Loners breath a sigh of relief.
Maybe tomorrow will be better.