“What’s Your Favorite Subject?”
Friedrich Frobel, the father of modern kindergarten, once said that “Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.” When I was a child attending elementary school at North Baltimore, I never sensed that recess was that profound but I do recall how much fun it was.
I attended Powell School through fourth grade. Powell School was blessed with ample green space so there was plenty of room for running, kicking a ball, playing tag, swinging and even catching caterpillars on the undeveloped area just east of the playground. There was a wooden fort on that playground that the boys fiercely defended. When any girl approached the fort, a chorus of “Join in, no girls allowed” was sure to follow. I honestly don’t think I ever explored the inside of the boys’ fort. I guess I will chalk that up as one of the unsolved mysteries of my life.
The highlight of fourth grade recess was playing marbles. Do you remember how we each had a little homemade cloth sack to carry our treasured marbles? On the playground, we played marble games that resulted in the winner seizing the loser’s marble. Once the recess whistle blew and we returned to the classroom, the marble bags had to be safely stowed in our desk. The worst case scenario was dropping the marbles on the floor during class because the teacher confiscated every marble that hit the floor. My teacher, Emma Apple, ended up with some of my best marbles, but she did kindly return them to me on the last day of school.
In fifth grade, we transitioned to Hammansburg School and recess became even more fun. Hammansburg was also blessed with a huge playground. By that age, the boys were playing more organized games of touch football or basketball.
The highlight of fifth grade recess for the girls was click-clack balls. Clackers, as they were often called, consisted of two hard plastic balls attached to a long rope. By placing one’s hand in the middle of the rope and making an up and down motion, the balls began to swing and meet the other ball, creating a loud clacking sound. Some girls were quite adept at this skill. Soon, almost every girl had a set of clackers at recess. At that juncture, someone within the school administration decided that clackers were dangerous and they were no longer allowed at school. Apparently recess rules were a high organizational priority in North Baltimore schools that year; another funny recess edict of that school year was “Girls can wear jeans, but only under their dresses.”
Sixth grade at Main School was the last year of recess for us. Unfortunately, the Main School had no grass, just an asphalt playground with a monkey bar and a swing set. Luckily, it had a foursquare court. I spent my entire school year playing foursquare. It was a great activity for pre-teens because it allowed for plenty of time to chit chat or to sing the current number one hit, Don McLean’s “American Pie,” while waiting in line for another turn. “Bye, bye Miss America Pie, drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry….”
Do you ever wonder who decided that we no longer needed recess after sixth grade? I would contend that I might be more productive at work now if I took a break to play a few minutes outside. Mr. Frobel said that play is “the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.” Well, what about our grown-up souls? I just spent last weekend at a retreat to refill my well. I wonder if my soul would have felt so depleted if I had just snuck outside for a little recess each day. I think I will talk to my boss about that during my annual review. If you happen to see a mean game of foursquare on the corner of Main Street and Sandusky Street in Findlay, you will know she granted my request.