In Praise of Big Recess

When I was a youngster, there were two breaks in the school day: a 15 minute recess at mid-morning and a longer one right after lunch. Now, at this point in my life, the concept of running around outside immediately after eating seems nuts; when I was in elementary school, a power nap wasn’t so alluring. Then, I was happy to chase my friends around the playground during that break time known as Big Recess.

By the time my sons were in school, the days of two breaks in the school day were over. They had OOP—Optional Outside Play—for twenty minutes in the middle of the day.

My niece, a few years younger than my sons, also attended a school that offered their students daily outdoor time. They called it Brain Break.

The names are different, but the concept is the same. Sometimes, you need a break from learning.

Now that I look back, a lot of learning happened during Big Recess. I learned to tuck my skirt (three pleats, hemline two inches above the knee) tightly around my thighs so it wouldn’t flip up when I was swinging. I learned how to make that origami do-dad that reveals the name of the boy you will marry. I learned to do hot peppers while jumping rope. I learned (and still remember) the lyrics to “Oh, Mary Mack.” I learned how to navigate cliques; to negotiate a candy trade; to maneuver around nuns with eyes in the back of their heads; and to decipher statements such as, “Barry wants to know if you like him, and if you say yes, he says he likes you, too, but if you say no, he’s only asking because he wants to know, and not because he likes you if you don’t like him.”

Were I editing Barry’s emissary, I would tell him to work on his clarity.

I am thinking of this because the school year is back in full swing. There are two elementary schools in my town. One is far away; one is on the other side of the creek and the city parkland behind my house. The one that is far away has no recess time at all, which I gather is the trend. Liability, security, teacher accountability—all those –ity words have joined forces to end the school recess tradition.

The elementary school near my house still has afternoon outside time. I know because, at a certain time every day, right on the dot, the children are set free. From any location in my house, I can hear them screaming. I can never decide if it sounds more like they are having a great time, or if there is a massacre in progress.

But back-to-school is not the only reason Big Recess is on my mind. After working on my current work in progress almost daily since February, I decided to take a break from it this weekend. Two straight, solid days without a peek at my Main Character and her assortment of friends, enemies, and frenemies.

Instead of tinkering with her life, I went outside and tooled around with mine. I trimmed a lot of bushes and deadheaded a lot of plants. I settled on the chaise on my deck and read from my Nook.

Okay, so I nearly had a stroke when I opened the garage door and saw a four-foot snake skin spread out in all its glory at my feet, but Big Recess involved a scraped knee now and then.  Nothing’s perfect.

On Sunday night, after my two day break, I took a peek at a niggly little problem in my WIP and thought, “Oh! I get it. That’s what was wrong.” And I fixed it. Just like that.

All I needed was a Brain Break. Some Optional Outside Play. Big Recess. Just like my pal Barry, I needed to step back a bit to gain some clarity.

Do you take a break now and then from the write-every-day routine? Do you ever get signs or signals that your work habits are starting to be a grind, and maybe you should step away for a while?

Tell me about it.

11 thoughts on “In Praise of Big Recess

  1. Ramona, I love this post both for the nostalgia and the wisdom. As for taking breaks, I usually have the opposite problem! However, the past few weeks I’ve been contractually obligated to Meredith to write set amount of hours & days during the week – and not allowed to write on weekends. It’s really been great both in terms of productivity and brain break. (We got the idea from an article in O magazine. I need to write a blog post about it.)


  2. Although my school breaks began almost sixty years ago, I can remember them vividly. And, yes, those nuns did have eyes in the backs of their heads. Our school playground was paved and bordered by our church, school, a funeral home, and the local railroad repair shops (with lots of smoke and noise). Not a bucolic spot, but we had a wonderful time.

    I find taking a break from my WIP is essential. When I come back to it, I frequently find that it wasn’t as bad as I thought. The longer I distance myself from it, the better it reads. But I also find that after I take a break, I can also improve on what I had written.


    1. Grace, I agree that looking at the story with fresh eyes is a great benefit. It’s a conundrum for me, because I like to write every day and keep my head in the story. I’m trying to do this draft without stopping, and then take a break and look at it from page 1.

      I think children will play wherever is available. Church, school, funeral home, railroad shops–lots of possibilities there, for fun and fiction!


  3. Hi Ramona:

    Loved the post. Julie Long recommended it to me and it is priceless. I went to a Catholic grade school so your antics on the playground brought back a lot of good memories–including that origami do-dad! I will use your post as a justification for taking breaks and sharpening my skills.



  4. HI Janice, and thank you for stopping by. Julie is a good friend to have, so hang onto her.

    I know that origami do-dad has a proper name. That may be my next blog post~

    Taking breaks is good, just so long as you do get back to it. I think a declaration of “I’m taking a break” is positive, and much better than “I meant to write but never got to it.” A conscious decision not to write is a good thing, when you need it.

    I hope you will visit again.


  5. We do all need those breaks, and shame on the schools who are taking them away from the children. Even though I spent most of my recesses reading under a tree, I liked them! When I was teaching (six classes a day; hundreds of papers to grade), I moved almost everything non-school to the summer months (doctors, car license, etc.), except weekly visits with Mom, theater, museum, just talking . . .
    Now that I only have the “little fun job” helping with aqua-aerobics at the Y (class at noon is a bit like recess, actually), I discovered that the two-week break while the pool went through yearly maintenance was a somewhat welcome break in routine (and chance to visit the zoo and garden . . . and do some med. tests . . . all good 😉
    It’s as in the old saying, something like, “A change is as good as a rest.”
    As for Karen’s claim of constant recess — her gardening, canning, painting, sewing projects would completely wear me out . . .
    as would my friend Sue’s schedule


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