Reflections

Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?

I’m not proud to admit that early in my career, I would be quick to revoke a child’s recess for a variety of infractions. It seemed an effective punitive measure, and after all, it was a tactic frequently used by my colleagues. However, over time, I started to ask myself if there was a more effective form of punishment; one that had a more direct coloration to the infraction. In other words, I started asking whether the punishment fit the crime, and if taking away recess was actually exacerbating the problem?

I recently came across this article in my Twitter feed: This Is Why Schools Need To Stop Taking Away Recess As A Form of Punishment. I’m not going to get into the specifics of the article, or the many studies mentioned, but here are a few highlights pertaining to why we need to rethink the impulse to revoke a child’s recess:

  • Children need a break from academics.
  • Recess plays a crucial and necessary role in a child’s creative, social, and emotional development.
  • Children need regular and consistent breaks.
  • Fidgety students may often have their recess revoked when it’s these students who need the break most.
  • Revoking recess can make the problem worse by not allowing the child to work off excessive energy.

After reading the article, I expressed my views on Twitter, as I often do, and a small discussion ensued, which is great. I like these discussions and the different perspectives offered; they often help me hone my own thinking. However, on this issue, I felt quite resolute, and wanted to know the thoughts of a wider audience, so I created a Twitter poll. I didn’t simply want to know if others felt that revoking recess was an effective and fair punitive measure, I also wanted to seek alternatives. Here are the results:

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As you can see, a very large percentage of educators polled were against this disciplinary measure. Here are some of the alternatives offered. What you’ll immediately notice is the positive-centered approach, and the direct coloration between the behavior and consequence.

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Of course, there are times when revoking recess would be advantageous. If removing a child from the yard helps ensure the safety and well-being of themselves and/or others, then yes, this punitive measure would be highly appropriate, even necessary. However, what this article conveys, and the point I am trying to make, is that revoking a child’s recess often appears to be the only recourse. What if we spent a little more time crafting responses to infractions that benefitted the child by demonstrating the logical outcome of a poor choice? Moreover, what if in the process we also taught them a valuable life skill?

Educators, let’s reflect on this quote the next time we are faced with making the choice between revoking a child’s recess, and the infraction incurred.

“Recess is a necessary break in the day for optimizing a child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development. In essence, recess should be considered a child’s personal time, and it should not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons.” – American Academy of Pediatrics

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