A Philosophy of Recess:
DURING THE FIRST WEEKS OF SCHOOL, new recess parents are still a bit anxious to think about the myriad of ways students are allowed to use sticks in the wooded area on the side of the building called Camelot. “Are you sure this is okay?” one parent asks as two students sword fight with sticks in a duel matched only by those we read about in the stories of Sir Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. “It is!” I reply enthusiastically, “but remember sticks touch sticks, not people,” a small, yet significant rule.
These same recess parents marvel, as the year goes on, at the imagination of even the smallest students when they pick up a simple stick. Of course complex games of battle take place with a stick arsenal, but there are also feats of engineering genius as a sturdy bridge is constructed over the drainage ditch, or entire fairy cities emerge with nothing but found objects. Boys and girls alike are drawn not just to the playground (although it has its place —learning the monkey bars is certainly a right of passage), but to the enticing possibilities of sticks, acorns, and leaves.
Bursting out of the door to enter the freedom that recess brings, students see sticks, rocks, and dirt as instruments of creativity and joy. Their minds are reeling: “What should we build today?” The fairy village most certainly needs a fairy jail for the naughty fairies lurking about to cause trouble, or these long sticks fallen from a big storm are perfect for a lean-to fort built against the side of the building. They do not need fancy toys, or complex gadgets for outdoor play; just the time, space, and freedom to use what they find in God’s glorious and intricate creation.
There is a deep sense of pride when a student conquers and climbs the tree she had been working to climb all year. Or a sense of ownership in the group of boys who built a fortress the imaginary dragons were unable to penetrate. Pure joy radiates from the faces of a group of girls who, for the first time, experienced what it feels like to have mud on every inch of their bodies and they even lived to tell about it. This kind of physical awareness and confidence emerges not with structured activities and a list of objectives to complete, but with freedom to play, explore, and experience with all five senses, the world around them. Lorien Wood seeks to provide, throughout the rhythm of the day, many chances for children to experience God’s world and imagine the possibilities it holds for them.
Is there risk involved in allowing our precious students the freedom to pick up a rock as big as their heads or play with a stick? Certainly there are risks involved with this kind of play and exploration. We risk injury, frustrations, and we sometimes risk losing our own adult sanity. However, we believe this freedom offers something to our children that is increasingly hard to develop and cultivate in our technology driven world: the ability to freely explore God’s world, unencumbered, with Joyful Confidence.
Exploration of this sort fosters a deep sense of curiosity that continues well after the days of play sword-fighting and fairy-house building has ended. It flourishes during our 6th grade Watershed year, through garden planting and experiential learning in places like the Chesapeake Bay. Beyond that, the curiosity fostered through this early exploration builds the foundation for becoming a life-long learner. It encourages thinking outside of the box, pressing the limits, and being confident in knowing your own place in God’s world. When you trip on a stick in your yard or at school, see the stick with new eyes: never just a stick, but an instrument of adventure and endless possibilities. ❖