One of the “no duh” things I have learned while substitute teaching is the extraordinary difference in time horizons between young people and older people. I don’t mean this in the typical sense that kids can’t think too far ahead. I mean it in the broader sense… that what we would consider a little time is actually a whole lot of time for them.

One place where this comes up is with recess. Recess at Redstone elementary schools runs at about 10-15 minutes. To me, 10-15 really isn’t enough time to do anything. But to say that they are thrilled about it is an understatement. Not just as a break from the tedious monotony of classwork. In the same 10-15 minutes that isn’t “time enough to do anything” they just bounce from one activity to another. They play this for a couple minutes, then that. And sometimes they ask for an extra five minutes. Five minutes is a half or a third of the time that isn’t sufficient to do anything, but it just makes their day if you give it to them. Five minutes.

Recess more generally is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s good for kids to be able to go out and play. I have become a believer that recess should not be considered a reward but rather a good thing in its own right. I didn’t used to really believe this all that much because back when I was in elementary school, we spent recess doing things other than running around as often as not. But judging by the Redstone kids, we are the exception. Or maybe it was related to the fact that we had PE almost every day and they get it once or twice a week.

On the other hand, as a substitute, that 10-15 minutes out of an 8-hour day (including lunch) tends to be the cause of about a half or a third of the major problems I’ve faced. A good portion of the time when they come back in, I hear stories about how so-and-so hit so-and-so. How it may have been an accident but the retaliation was real. And the bad blood from the playground can color the atmosphere for the rest of the day.


Category: School

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5 Responses to Time Horizons & Recess

  1. Mike Hunt says:

    Plus, in school it would seem like the clocks worked backwards.

    I remember that after midterms in 8th grade, I was very happy. Why? Because my 17 years of schooling were half over. At the time, grad school wasn’t even a thought.

  2. trumwill says:

    I was counting down to college, so just to 13.

  3. Samson says:

    Oh, man, Will… I have had extensive discussions on this topic with a good friend of mine who is also a teacher.

    (Since when are you a teacher, by the way?)

    My friend heard the statistic, reasonable-sounding but I don’t the source, to the effect that perception-wise a kid has lived half his life by the age of about 10. That certainly rings true. We all know how long summers used to last… but your 15-minute recess example is great, too, because I wouldn’t have thought of it. For us, we basically need like an hour or more to do practically *any*thing. I wonder if that’s one of the main reasons we “feel” busier than we did when we were kids (although of course I am *actually* busier, too).

    The phenomenon lessens as we get older, but I think it even extends into college. Think about this: how long is a college semester? Three months!! And yet… when I was 19, at the beginning of a semester it felt like *forever* until Christmas, with *tons* of time for parties, etc. Now, three months is like a weekend.

  4. trumwill says:

    (Since when are you a teacher, by the way?)

    I started in the spring semester. I’m continuing this fall, though due to other commitments it will be on a more limited basis. It’s already limited due to (I believe) my name being low on the list because I am not fully certified. I also may be persona-non-grada at one of the schools.

    I’m not sure when exactly the great acceleration happened. It was probably gradual, but these last four years have been super-fast. Despite the fact that it’s involved a number of moves and other things that should prevent things from running together as they have.

    Sometimes I think, “Wow, it’s been a year! I only have 50 or so of those left… if I’m lucky!”

  5. Mike Hunt says:

    When I was in second grade, one of the boys wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom alone, because he would wander the building and not come back. So one of the other boys would have to chaperone. One day it was my turn. When we got back the teacher asked me for a status report. I told her, “It was fine. He just took a p*ss,” not realizing that it was a word that was inappropriate for school.

    I didn’t get into trouble; she just told me not to use that word. But she was certainly surprised. And I was surprised the word was inappropriate. Hell, it was one of George Carlin’s 7 Dirty Words.

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