What’s behind a window could be the missing link in primary education, Carl Bosch writes.
My guidance office is fantastic. Our school was renovated some years back, and the guidance office is completely new. Ample size with exposed brick on one wall, a big comfortable chair reserved for students, other chairs for small groups, soft lighting. It’s the kind of place that immediately makes people feel at home. Youngsters, parents, and teachers all stop in to talk. It’s a professional, inviting space. But it lacks one important aspect. It has no windows.
Occasionally, I’ll leave this interior office to go to a meeting or see a student in another part of the school building. Often, when I do, I’m surprised when I see the big bank of windows in the corridor and realize, “Hey, it’s sunny outside!” (Or windy, or snowing, or raining or cloudy.) It’s a sad reality that not only have I spent my entire day indoors, but that I’m so divorced from the natural world. I can’t see a leaf change, or a bird, or a cloud.
But this isn’t about me. It’s about students. They need to get outside during the day. They need to breathe fresh air, run around, throw a ball, talk, shoot hoops, play tag, feel the sun. Elementary school students all have recess, and I’ve seen high school students sit outside during lunch, but at my middle school, students only have a half-hour lunch and no opportunity to get outside. I don’t know if that’s the case with other schools, but it wouldn’t surprise me that the busy, impacted day at many schools simply doesn’t allow for recess.
Years ago l used to take kids out for lunch. There was a basketball court (now a parking lot). Kids would play or just sit around and talk. They got some fresh air. They got a break from school. I got lots of complaints. Kids would sometimes arrive late for class. They’d be sweaty or hot, and they wanted drinks of water. Once in a while, a kid would get a bump or a bruise and end up in the nurse’s office. That eventually ended the mini-recess.
When I meet with teachers and we discuss students, they often talk about when they have the student during the day. Mornings seem to be better. By the afternoon, some kids have just exhausted their tank of energy. They’re bored, distracted, tired of sitting in a desk all day, ready to bust out. An outdoor break might be just what they need.
At recess, kids actually play. Remember playing? It’s not a bad word. Play just like it always was. They play sports or make up games. They laugh and run. Sometimes they flirt. There’s no television, no cell phones, no GameBoys, no directions, no coaches, no mandatory practice, and no organization. They figure things out. They make do. The occasional disagreement gets resolved, or adults intercede if needed. Mostly, they just play. I’m not sure that kids just “play” anymore.
When this year ends I’ll say good bye to my office. I’ll miss its warm, safe, engaging security. But I’ll see the sky more often.
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