When I think back to my elementary school days, I have many fond memories — but arguably none so fond as recess, that hallowed time we were allowed to stretch our legs and soak up the sunshine between lessons. There were certain things that happened during recess in elementary school when we were growing up that the mere mention of merits major nostalgia. So, I'm not gonna lie, I was saddened when a mom friend with an elementary-school-aged son recently informed me her 6 year old's recess time pales in comparison to our glory days on the elementary school playground. Poor kid.
I was especially obsessed with recess for myriad reasons, ranging from ample opportunity to corner my crush (hellooooo, Gary B.!) to the elaborate imaginary scenarios my friends and I would enact beneath the big wooden clubhouse. So what happened to recess the way we remember it? Here's hoping that the American Academy of Pediatrics' updated policy statement endorsing the importance of recess for kids will encourage educators to devote a bit more time in the curriculum to outdoor play. While we're at it, here's hoping some doctor somewhere will release a statement suggesting adults should get a recess, too.
Until then, though, at least we have our nostalgic memories from recesses past to lift our spirits when the mid-day office doldrums strike. Here are a few reminders of classic things that happened in the elementary schoolyard to kick-start your much needed mental recess.
1. Red Rover Got Intense
This classic playground game was not for the faint of heart. The governing premise is that you're running headfirst into a virtual wall of your peers, hoping your little elementary school body can break the links formed by their joined hands. Naturally, the smaller kids were targeted first, resulting in a line stacked with the tallest kids on one side — leading to a whole bunch of gnarly clotheslining.
2. Two Words: Relationship Drama
Oh, to be young and have a new crush with every passing hour. My elementary school practically encouraged fledgling relationship drama by letting the boys of the class line up for recess and then pick a girl to get in line behind them (seriously, school?). My crush alternated between me and another classmate nearly every day, so you can imagine how awkward this trio was when it was our turn to hit the see-saws.
3. Kickball. Every. Single. Day
Maybe elementary schools back in the day got bulk discounts on those red rubber balls. Perhaps it was just the easiest sport to teach easily distracted elementary school brains. Whatever the case, not a day when by when we didn't play kickball during recess. Nothing felt better than the moment your foot connected with the ball and send it flying past the "pitcher's" head. Of course, few things were more mortifying than that moment your foot most certainly did not connect.
4. Someone Got Picked Last
Such was life, eh? It was simple math that someone had to be picked last, but being that person in elementary school was basically the worst. There was an inherent stigma with being the last one standing there, waiting to be claimed. I only recall this happening to me once, but I recall it vividly and it was when I had a bum ankle. Yet another way recess in elementary school was a case study in survival of the fittest.
5. Competitive Trading
Every '90s kid worth their salt knew that recess was prime time for trading. What could elementary school kids possibly have to trade, you ask? Why, Pokemon cards and Pogs, of course. Great diplomatic meetings were held on the outskirts of the playground to suit this purpose. Sadly, the keen business acumen I possessed when pawning off Pikachu cards did not follow me into my adult life.
6. The Jump Roping Ante Was Upped
In full disclosure, I sucked at jumping rope. My unfortunate ineptitude in this classic recess pastime led to many a) failed attempts and b) afternoons spent jealously looking on as the far more coordinated girls in my grade Double Dutched like there was no tomorrow. I can just hear them now: Cinderella, dressed in yellow/Went upstairs to kiss her fellow/Made a mistake/And kissed a snake/How many doctors did it take? One, two, three, four, five...
7. Someone Got Sidelined
There was always that one kid who wound up being pulled out of play by the teacher for inappropriate behavior. This usually entailed climbing up the slide the wrong way repeatedly, or smuggling contraband candy like Warheads into the sandbox. If he or she was lucky, their punishment would only require a temporary time-out — but repeat offenders would have to suffer through the entire recess on the sidelines. Woe is them!
8. Someone Got Sidelined
Of course, sometimes you got sidelined not for bad behavior but because you were the victim of a recess injury. Scraped knees, calloused heels, blistered hands — you name it and we experienced it during our elementary school recess days. True story: I once had to be carted to urgent care across the street for running smack dab into the flag pole while feigning mock indignation over my crush's advances.