Pay-to-play courses putting Ottawa recesses at risk

Matt Coutts
Daily Brew
December 10, 2012

Do you remember recess? That moment of temporary reprieve when, as a child, you could escape the confines of the structures classroom and play freely?

You could swing as high as you could for ten minutes, or kick a ball against a fence with no particular purpose in mind. Or you could organize a baseball game, or fight imaginary dragons.

Now imagine that time being sold to a company who would train you until the bell went off and you went scurrying back to class.

The Ottawa Citizen reports that pay-to-play recess activities are growing more common in our nation's capital as several athletic and academic groups seek out a profit by providing structure to student recesses.

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The Citizen identifies several organizations, one of which offers six general active recess sessions for $41.66. Other groups offer extra science experiments, even chess lessons.

The idea of putting that time up for sale is nearly absurd. First of all, if it is being offered during school time, shouldn't the courses be part of the school curriculum? Is it right to have an outside company come in and tell children how to play?

But more importantly, do students really need an extra class crammed into recess? Can't we just leave the kids alone for a few minutes?

Jennifer Small, a supply teacher with a child when one such session is offered, tells the Citizen she doesn't see the need for such classes:

Recess is a time for kids just to let loose and be creative on their own. And quite frankly, it's only about 20 minutes. Do we really need someone telling them what to do?

There is a growing backlash to over-scripting a child's day. Those parents who pile concerts and courses and tutoring sessions on top of each other could be cutting into the time when a kid can just be a kid, some experts suggest.

David Elkind, a professor of child development at Tufts University, calls self-created play "neither a luxury nor a waste of time, it is a basic mode of learning, and children have a need to play."

According to a number of recent studies, limiting free play can have a negative impact on children, and those students who engage in free time at recess are able to focus more effectively when they return to the classroom.

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These pay-to-play activity sessions are not mandatory and of course parents have the right to enroll their children in whatever extra courses whenever they choose. But, do we really need to shoehorn another class in to recess? Can't we let kids be kids for that one brief moment?

Those imaginary dragons are not going to slay themselves.