I am appalled at the trend of teachers withholding recess from kids as a consequence for not completing homework assignments.  I know it’s a widespread practice at my kids’ elementary school, which is why when I sent letters to each of my kids’ teachers at the beginning of this school year informing them of the limits I would be placing on homework, I specifically brought up the issue of withholding recess and insisted that they not penalize my kids in that, or any other manner, for not completing homework assignments.  Fortunately, all of my kids’ teachers were agreeable; there are teachers who insist, however, that despite parents’ protests, they must treat every child the same and dole out the same consequences – however pointless and, indeed, unhealthy those consequences may be.  I’m sure the law varies from area to area on this issue; if withholding recess occurs at your school, find out what the laws are in your area regarding recess.

In any case, there are two points I want to make:

First, one of the fundamental arguments made in favor of homework is that it helps with learning – it positively impacts academic achievement.  Study after study disproves this notion, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume it’s true for a moment.  Wouldn’t the natural consequence, then, of not completing one’s homework assignments be the student’s failure to grasp concepts and to do well on class assignments and tests?  And wouldn’t that be consequence enough?  Why does anyone feel that it’s necessary to impose additional penalties?  And what if, despite not completing one’s homework assignments, one continues to grasp concepts and do well in class anyway?  What, then, is the point of imposing a consequence for not completing the homework?

It seems pretty clear to me that this is really about obedience and compliance.  It’s a case of “Do what I say . . . just because I say so.”  What does that have to do with learning (except learning to be obedient and compliant)?  What does that have to do with academic achievement?

More and more, it seems that asserting authority has overtaken public school philosophy.

The second point I want to make is that recess is not a reward for good behavior, for compliance and obedience and pleasing the teacher, and it is not a privilege that must be earned.  Or, at least, it’s not supposed to be.  Recess is a very real component in the overall health and development of children who spend their days sitting at desks within four walls, learning.  To have the opportunity a couple times a day to get out into the fresh air and run around, socialize, and play, has a direct positive impact on children’s physical and emotional health.  The American Academy of Pediatrics has published its position on the crucial role of recess for kids:


Even adult workers, by law, are entitled to a certain amount of break time per shift worked, because it goes directly to the wellbeing of workers, as well as their productivity.

it seems to me, then, that depriving kids of recess verges on abusive, and in any case, will only backfire by creating a situation where the student is resentful, antsy due to not being given the opportunity for some physical activity to get his or her “wiggles” out, and less able to focus and be productive.