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Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, and author of Meditation in the College Classroom: A Pedagogical Tool to Help Students De-Stress, Focus,...
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A Magical Recess

My classlearned some ofits most valuable lessonson the playground--with the teacher playing a very limited role.

Trust, cooperation, teamwork, handling pressure, losing with grace.

And it all happened by accident.

We would sneak out for recess once or twice a week (due to a tight schedule, an insane amount of attention on test scores, and other factors, recess does not always happen). Some of the boys began playing a game learned at physical education classcalled Four Square, which involves students standing in one of four squares and hitting a ball back and forth. The goal is to keep the ball from bouncing out of your square.

Not satisfied with the norm, my gifted fifth-graderschanged the rules and began playing a more intense, "free-style" game. Some days I would play with them, and we began naming moves after Kung Fu techniques and calling the game Four-Square-Fu. Then came teams. Groups began forming with intimidating names like the Atomic Annihilators and the Cobra Kai ( named after the karate school in theKarate Kid movies).

More and more of the students--girlsincluded-began playing the game, which, with no exaggeration, had become a classroom phenomenon.Students would beg to me to go to recess so they could continue playing Four-Square Fu, and being thedevious teacher that I am, I used this as an incentive for the students to work harder in class.

As I stepped back and coached the games, I realized all kind of lessons were being learned. Students had to decide who to trust and whether to form "temporary alliances" with other playersto stay in the game. Players serving the ball from the "A" square (the squares are marked A through D to help keep track who gets out) had to deal with the pressure of trying to remain in the key position. Most importantly, teams had to learn to work together, passing the ball and creating fake-outs, if they wanted to win. Finally, students learned to lose without being poor sports since, if they were poor sports when getting out, they had to sit out of the game.

At the end of the year, the class asked me to pass the torch and teach the incoming class to play Four-Square. I told them I would do my best but doubted they would embrace the game with the samepassion and zeal. One can only dream.

Myhope is that this story helped you remember that recess, and allowing students some free time while standing back and providing a little encouragement, can sometimes spark true learning. Please visit the Innovative Teaching group at http://community.educationworld.comcontent/recess-and-learning?gid=NTEyMQ== and share your thoughts and ideas on how recess and play time can create learning opportunities for your classroom.

Thank you,