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School recess has become a major issue that impacts effective classroom management. I've been in an elementary school teaching 3rd graders for 3 years, and I'm still having problems with getting kids to concentrate after playing recess games during lunch. They are just too "wired" to learn!
It takes just as much intentional teaching effort to calm kids down as it does to get them motivated for learning. Either direction you are trying to move them ("exciting up" or "calming down"), the goal is to get them into the "learning zone" as quickly as possible. There's no time to waste in a school day!
Four Square Fun: Sometimes the teacher gets the kids riled up!
Most elementary school teaching resources - or your fellow teachers - will advise you to calm kids down after outdoor recess, or perhaps by having them engage in silent reading. This lower-energy time helps them dissipate their school recess energy and get their brains back into learning mode.
I don't disagree...but I think we can do better with a few simple changes.
Some teachers read their favorite books to the kids after school recess, ones that have proven themselves year after year as being engaging...some are even acknowledged classics. There could be two problems with this approach.
First, while the book may be loved by children, it may not be meeting any of the literacy goals for the grade level.
Second, while kids love to hear a story (don't we all), their biggest need is to improve their own reading skills. Fluency begets comprehension, and they gain fluency more by reading, less by listening. You want the biggest bang for your buck at every moment of the day.
There are too many books and elementary school teaching approaches that meet both goals (calming kids down and improving their skills) to pull out the old favorite just because you - the teacher - like it.
The key to success (even if your school does recess before lunch) is to understand that the most-important thing is the transition from lunch or outdoor recess games, not the activity you do when you return to class. Students should not be allowed to think that their break continues into the classroom, or that rowdy behavior is acceptable even if they just finished a wild game of soccer and won.
As always, set clear expectations for what the transition will look like.
Early in the year, meet your students out on the playground and wait until they meet expectations for walking in line. Then move indoors where silence and straight lines are expected. March them right to the drinking fountain for a quick sip, give them a bathroom break, and them move into the room.That's step one. It is filled with lots of cues that tell the kids it is time to settle down and get back to learning. Frankly, if you allow a thundering herd to stampede all the way into your room, you've lost the battle before it has begun.
Step two takes the activity level down one more notch. A great elementary school teaching activity is to have them engage in a partner activity for ten minutes. These activities can be designed to be appropriate for any grade level:
Step 3 is silent reading for an age-appropriate number of minutes with a proper book for individual reading levels. For example, in 4th grade, we start at 10-15 minutes, but gradually increase to 30 minutes (max!) as the year progresses.
At the end of silent reading, 20 to 30 minutes have passed since the end of school recess. These minutes have not been wasted; except for a few minutes at the drinking fountain and bathroom, your students have been engaged in curriculum-based learning. And they are now ready for any subject.
The key to this school recess transition process is to:
After a week, you students will know exactly what to expect and what to do during that post-lunch time. Kids crave consistency; this is a great place to give it to them! If they are held accountable for expectations once they have thoroughly practiced, students will be on auto-pilot, smoothly transitioning through activities on their own.
TIP: Posting a daily schedule on your whiteboard tells the kids exactly what is expected after school recess each day.
Transitioning to Specialists
If your year-long elementary school teaching plan calls for immediate an transition to a specialist (Art, Fitness, Library, Music) immediately after lunch on some days, then the first part (orderly line up, drinks and bathroom) becomes even more important.
If needed, waiting until all kids are seated in the specialist's room and doing a formal hand over can send a clear signal that play time is over.
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