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Recess as the basis of culture

There is a beautiful park that is frequented by many people in our suburban area. The geese, gulls, squirrels, mallards and pelicans are a constant source of joy, and I feel much refreshed when I spend an evening there. One day, off I went to the park for a brisk workout. It was crowded: people were enjoying the last few weeks of sunshine before the fall and winter cold set in.

I found myself having to slow down at several places, which enabled me to listen to what people were saying from time to time. At one point I found myself listening to a couple of women talking about the malady of modern times — the over-scheduled child’s life. The women were discussing the schedules of their Grade 5 children.

“As soon as he comes back from school he has to go for Taekwondo for two hours, then, violin class, and then his Math or English classes. I also want him to play basketball. So at the weekends he has Bala Vihar (the equivalent of Sunday school), swimming and basketball. He asks me, Amma, when can I do my homework? Poor fellow! I told him to skip his recess and just finish his homework so that he need not be stressed.”

I turned around to see if they were joking, but they weren’t. They were genuinely worried about the children’s activities and wanted to solve the issue of finding homework time.

My heart went out to both the worried mothers and the harried children. I thought of how much I loved recess as a child, and how much the children love recess now. I like to watch the elementary school children at play while dropping off the son to school in the mornings. It is a heartening sight to see the children find their friends, their faces breaking out into slow, wide smiles, with a spring in their step as they bound off to play.

A few girls play the jump rope. They stand on either side of the jump rope and swish the rope up and down while the person in the middle tries to jump as the rope comes under their feet. Every time, a child trips she smiles and good-humoredly lets go, while her friends cheer her on with their own smiles. In just a few weeks, I see the children have got much better at the game too. The days I am able to see the children play the jump rope I feel as though a lovely light permeated my soul, and whispered to me that all would be well.

These children will be the new leaders in a few years, after all. If they know how to encourage each other and work together to lift everyone up, we will be fine, won’t we?

Most days when I ask about school, I get recess-tales. The best lessons in life are those imparted at recess: the strength of companionship, the solidarity of friendship, the simple choice of being present for one another, and so much more.

It was the German philosopher Josef Pieper who said recess is the basis of culture. The daughter used to describe in marvellous detail about how they transformed the playground into an underwater coral reef, and played a game called Sharks & Minnows. (That child should have been born a mermaid!) The son shows me his callused hands from attempting the monkey bars and the various shenanigans possible with this simple play structure.

I pondered over the solution the mother gave her child, to skip recess and finish homework instead. Often we find ourselves in spots like this, where we are trying to solve a problem without changing any of the variables. But it was an important lesson to me. Maybe sometimes we need to see what variable can be changed — in this case, what activity can be let go. Or schedule in a Magical Do-Nothing Day Or Magical Do-Nothing hours. (A Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna is a lovely children’s book that helps us see how we can transform a simple day into a marvellous one.) After all, as Socrates said, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”

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Printable version | Oct 18, 2021 10:21:36 AM |

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