In school yards across the country, recess coaches are being hired to teach and cajole kids into playing organized games. The New York Times reports that the coaches — wielding whistles and playbooks — are sought by schools to “curb bullying and behavior problems, foster social skills and address concerns over obesity.”
In Newark, for example, Broadway Elementary School hired a recess coach “out of exasperation with students who, left to their own devices, used to run into one another, squabble over balls and jump-ropes or monopolize the blacktop while exiling their classmates to the sidelines.” Since the coach took control, recess disciplinary cases like bloody noses and “busted lips” have declined by 75 percent.
But critics say what may appear to be responsibly structured time in fact has a negative impact on kids, who “benefit most from recess when they are let alone to daydream, solve problems, (and) use their imagination to invent their own games.” According to Dr. Romina Barros, author of a well known study about the benefits of recess, structured play time merely moves classroom rules outside. “You still have to pay attention,” she said. “You still have to follow rules. You don’t have that time for your brain to relax.”
Should we let kids figure it out for themselves on the playground, or hire a coach to help?