The Importance of Recess and Letting Kids Play

Let kids play

Every generation eventually reaches an age where they start to tell children how things were “back in the day”. And for the most part, children pretend to listen, roll their eyes, put their earbuds back in and wonder why adults are so weird. I used to be that child. Now, however, I’m an adult and as I stare into the faces of dozens of kids every day, I realize that there are a few things we did “back in the day” that were actually really, really important.

When we were kids we played outside a lot. We invented games, broke up into teams, and played our little hearts out. There were fights over the rules. There was usually a lot of discussion and debate over what was fair, and perhaps most importantly there were winners and losers. We didn’t know it at the time, but those games prepared us more for the real world than school ever did. Think about the lessons we learned in those playgrounds.

let kids play on playground

1. It teaches kids how to adapt.

By inventing games, or making up new ways to play old games, we were stretching our imagination. And why were we constantly making up new games? To adapt to our environment. You can’t play baseball with 6 kids, but you can play Home Run Derby. We learned how to work with what we were given and make the best of it.

2. It teaches kids how to handle their emotions.

When we picked teams, some kids were picked first, and some were always last. Did it hurt? Maybe a little, but guess what? It taught us how to handle disappointment. For some of us, it put a chip on our shoulder that made us want to succeed even more. So we tried harder and worked to improve. We also learned one of the most valuable life lessons out there: We all have strengths and weaknesses, and that’s OK.

3. It teaches kids logic and rationality.

Arguing over the rules taught us how to debate logically and rationally. It also improved our sense of what’s right and wrong. It kind of makes you wish our Congress had recess every day doesn’t it?

4. It teaches kids how to lose.

Then there’s the concept of winners and losers. This is, in my opinion, the most important lesson the playground taught us. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, and those two facts will continue to be true for the rest of your life. No matter who you are and how your life goes, no one finishes life undefeated. Losing comes in all shapes and sizes. It could be not getting into the college of your dreams, a painful divorce or losing a job, but it happens to all of us. And what tends to separate us as adults is how well we handle those lows in our lives. We all need to learn how to lose, and it’s much better to learn those lessons during a kickball game when you’re 6 than when you’re 28 and Mommy and Daddy aren’t around to wipe your tears.

kids peeking through hole

We have a natural tendency to want to protect our children; to shield them from ever feeling upset. So we organize little leagues that don’t keep score and hand out participation trophies just for showing up. Sure it puts a smile on their face, but it also means they’re missing out on some of life’s most important lessons. So I say, let kids play. In fact, let’s start requiring kids to play because there’s a lot they need to learn that isn’t covered in their textbooks.


Let Kids Play Important Life Lessons Are Learned on the Playground feature image

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David Rode

Dave is a middle school math teacher. He's also a musician, a community theater, dad to two amazing children, and he doesn't get a lot of sleep.

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