Swinging into Childhood

Authored by Mary B. Sellers

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.

George Bernard Shaw

In the World of School, recess is spoken of in reverential tones, not only by students but also by teachers. The reasons range from the physiologically concrete to nostalgic to the abstract, depending on whom you talk to. For students, it’s a 30-40 minute window of relative freedom from the mental and physical containment that the classroom necessitates. Recess is a reprieve from the redirection of behaviors: the in-door voices please, waiting your turn, walking instead of running, sitting instead of standing, Chromebook privileges. It’s a safe space for moving bodies and for letting off that excess potent kid energy most adults (at least this one, here) wishes the FDA would approve as an over-the-counter stimulant. 

Maybe most importantly–at least where our fourth grade is concerned–recess is a reliable mid-marker for where we are in our day. We all need that, no matter what age we happen to be. When our days lack a center, we often feel unmoored, even a little dissociative.

Teachers view recess as anything from a time for grownup talk with their coworkers; a chance to check phone messages, e-mail, engage digitally; a time for speed grading last week’s multiple choice test for Tuesday Papers; to a built-in bathroom break sans the existential anxiety of using the restroom during a lesson, sitting on the toilet, and wondering what chaos could be breaking out in your briefly unattended classroom (?!?!).

When nature calls, she doesn’t leave a voicemail, you know?

With my daily lunch/recess classroom rotation schedule, I have a chance to spend more one-on-one bonding time with each particular class over the course of the week. Each of the four classroom personalities is distinctive–each home to several microcosms of personality, enthusiasm, silliness, sweetness, budding hormones, and TikTok references. 

Back in November, I decided to take to the swing set. As I walked towards the set, I was mildly catastrophizing in my head about my weight taking down the entire metal framing, someone getting a bone broken, emotional scarring for life… But, I don’t know, something told me I needed to do it, so I did. 

I’ve revisited the swing set several times since then. I’ve matched pace and rhythm with students while pumping ourselves higher and higher, and talked about all sorts of things, answered questions about my own life, and given advice that I hope was my right to give. It’s the physicality of swinging that I miss most, and the feeling of being in the air, reaching the toes of my sneakers up towards a rogue cloud. On a more serious note, taking part in play has helped my mental health. One of the things I love about engaging with children is that each interaction forces me into the present; there is literally no time to ruminate or worry too much. I have to schedule my worries for later in the day, which I find is a good thing for me. In other words, recess is a portal away from the past and future. It only exists in the present, and to take part in that as an adult, we must submit to these rules. 

Here are some highlights of 4th Grade Recess, surreptitiously (or not so) captured and compiled by yours truly:

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