Taking away recess is not the way to support student behavior.

Kids love recess. It’s one of children’s rights to get outside, take a break, run, talk with friends and be free to play. The threat of taking that freedom away can be tempting when a child is misbehaving, but withholding recess as punishment is a mistake. Students need a break, especially those who are misbehaving. If a student does not turn in an assignment or talks to his or her neighbor too much, a lack of play will not make that student change. We, instead, suggest these six alternatives to taking away recess:

  1. Create a group agreement. When kids create their own rules, they feel ownership to upholding those rules. As a class, talk about right and wrong. Ask your students to identify rules that the entire class should abide by. If every student agrees, write it on a poster. If someone disagrees, ask 'Why' and discuss. When the list is complete, have every student sign the rules. Now when a rule is broken, a quiet reminder of “you and your class agreed…” will go a long way!
  2. Develop fun lessons. When lessons are fun and engaging, students do not want to miss out. Give students ownership, ask interesting questions, let kids curiosity shine, and discuss. Even play games with the kids, integrating the curriculum!
  3. Give students the tools to succeed. Everyone benefits from different learning environments. Provide these to help students. Try letting some stand at their desk, or bring in exercise balls for sitting. Let students teach and lead others. Provide quiet, friendly reminders to students who are working to change bad habits. Also try providing students a safe space to take a time out when they feel they need it. Trust the child.
  4. Help students develop self control. As students develop self control, their interpersonal skills improve. Through stories and examples, teach calming techniques, such as counting backwards from 10 and visualizing. Have students practice in class either all together or individually. Then provide gentle reminders to students when the may need to use self control.
  5. Talk… And talk some more. If a student is acting out, and it is time to find out why. Pull him/her aside and tell the student what you've observed. State the facts–what you saw, heard and know. Let this student determine how s/he is feeling. Sometimes a simple conversation can lead to better behavior. Other times, you may need to note how the behavior affects learning, or dig deeper by asking questions.
  6. Make a plan. If a student’s behavior is consistently an issue, it's time to get to to bottom of it! First ask (both you and the student) if things are working as they are. When is the student acting out? What are you both trying to accomplish at the time? Do one or both of you need to make a change? Brainstorm things that could be done differently. Once everyone agrees on a plan, write it down.
There are, of course, many more things that can be done. What do YOU do about student behavior instead of withholding recess? Do you avoid taking away recess as punishment most of the time, but find yourself resorting to it when students hit your hot buttons?

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