Break times in schools

Why do we send children into a space every lunch time, with little to occupy them and then act surprised when they get into augments and disagreements, returning to class with lots of tales to tell. Any teacher will tell you that after lunch is the worst time in a school day,  as dinner ladies haul children back inside to stand in the dock, other children are desperate to tell on others and some simply melt into the background feeling much the same as the vocal ones but unable to voice their thoughts. Teachers spend time trying to sort out the problems and react to the indignation of the dinner ladies only to find that its now 30 minutes into formal curriculum time and they must hurry up to catch up with all that needs to be taught. And teachers do this day, after day, after day.

This has been the status quo since 1870 when compulsory education came into being in England and Wales. Then the school boards consider they only had a responsibility to educate children, breaks were created for teachers to have a break, eat lunch, chat to each other. It was only in the early 1900s that it was considered important to ensure children were fed while at school and hence the school meals service was created. But when I look at the way schools are run nowadays it doesn’t seem much has change since 1870.

So why is this so? Well I think schools and Government still see that their main responsibility is to formally educate children and although many schools do now provide much more for children to do during breaktimes there is still a lack of understanding that break time is the schools’ responsibility. There appears to be a disconnect between the formal and informal parts of the day, with many schools still paying so little attention to those ‘other times’ of the day; the times when the children are not being formally taught.

And yet my day is not disconnected, everything is linked. What happens to me on the way to work whether I struggle through the traffic and other drivers are nice or horrible impacts how I feel generally. If I have to rush my lunch driving too and from a meeting or school that gives me a feeling of agitation. If I hurt myself banging into the filing cabinet, it doesn’t stop hurting because I go into another room. And yet somehow in schools it seems to be assumed that a child is a series of disconnected parts and what happens outside formal curriculum time happens and is of no consequence or if it does impact back in formal teaching time it is viewed as a nuisance. Parents who then voice their concerns about their child’s experience in the breaktime are considered a real pain!

It does not take much to make a series of relatively small changes which can together have a  big impact on the whole experience of the school day. Some ideas are:

  • not having a bell to announce playtime, it can be quite disruptive to many children,
  • teachers taking morning and afternoon breaks to suit the needs of the children,
  • having more zoned areas for play, a space for loose parts such as branches, off cuts of wood, a space for playing with small cars, a space with shrubs so children can feel secure and not exposed,
  • pop-up tents weighted down so they do not blow away for children to play in,
  • spaces indoors with role play resources.

I know schools have a lot to do but by paying more attention to those other-non-formal-times would be attention well spent as children would be happier, calmer and more secure generally and back in class during formal curriculum time.

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