This is an excerpt from my book, “The Wisdom of Childhood,” available on Amazon Kindle.

Do you remember that wonderful period during the school day called recess? After many hours in the classroom, having our brains filled with information we wondered if we would ever use, the bell would ring indicating time for recess. This was a time when we could just be by ourselves, hang out with our friends, pursue our new romantic interest, or play one of several active games. It was our choice to make.

I once heard someone say, “I was so bad in school, I flunked recess.” Maybe some of us are still flunking it. We have not learned how to live positively in an environment where we are able to make our own decisions. We may not know how to play the game of real life.

One of my favorite games on the playground was Red Rover. Two teams would be chosen, probably by the two most popular kids in school. These “captains” would go through the process of alternating choices to pick their team. It was really embarrassing to be picked last, but at least you still got to play.

The rules were simple. Each team lined up facing the other, while the kids in the line held each other’s hands in a death grip. The distance between the lines was variable, but it needed to be far enough for a kid to get a full head of steam. Then the call would go out, “Red Rover, Red Rover, let Billy come over.” Billy would run with all his might, pick what he thought was a weak link, and try to break through. If he was successful, he would select one of the kids at the break to come back and join his team. If, however, he was unsuccessful, he became a part of the unbroken team.

red rover

There was a lot of strategy involved in this game. First, choosing the right kid to call was critical. Obviously, the biggest kid was never called. The kid who was called then had to decide where the weakest link might be. Out of intense team loyalty and self pride, he certainly did not want to fail. I never knew of a game of Red Rover coming to a conclusion, but I suppose it was possible, if only one kid was left on a team.

Another game we played was Duck, Duck, Goose. This game was played in a circle, with kids sitting on the ground. I don’t remember how the choice was made, but one kid was chosen to be the Goose. This kid would walk around the circle, tapping each kid on the head, saying, “Duck, Duck, Duck…” until he or she decided who the next Goose should be. That kid would then be tapped (or possibly smacked) on the head as the Goose yelled, “GOOSE,” and took off running.

This kid would jump up and run around the circle in the opposite direction hoping to get back to his spot before the first Goose got there. It was almost impossible to win, since the first kid already had a big head start. The strategy here, of course, was to select a kid who was slower than you, so that your victory was assured. Sometimes there was a huge collision on the opposite side of the circle as the racers crossed paths.


Of course, there was always Tag. This was a game that didn’t need a lot of organization, and had a very simple set of rules. One kid was “It” and the rest were targets. This was basically one kid against the world. Once “tagged,” you became the new “It.” Usually in this game, there was some spot that was designated as home base, where a kid was safe for a short period of time. A kid couldn’t stay on home base for very long, and was probably destined to be tagged as soon as he/she left.


Lessons to be learned from recess are numerous:

1. Take time for a recess, a time away from the pressures of life.
2. Put yourself on “home base” where you can be protected from outside forces that threaten your balance.
3. Understand you can’t stay secluded on “home base” for ever.
4. Find ways to experience being a part of the circle of humanity.
5. Realize that once you are chosen to participate, you have a responsibility to the rest of the “team.”
6. Make smart choices. As Headmaster Dumbledore said to Harry Potter, “Our power lies not in our skills, but in our choices.”

So, the bell has rung, and it is time for recess. How well will you play today? What choices will you make? Have fun, and play nice with the other kids.

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8 Responses to Recess

  1. Wayne Barton says:

    Fond memories … contemplative reflections … well shared.

  2. Recess truly was fun! I had forgotten all about Duck Duck Goose…

  3. Jeyna Grace says:

    I played different games during recess, but still the same lessons learnt 🙂

  4. Aunt Beulah says:

    Wonderful post: memories with a direct connection to our adult lives. I remember the thrill of breaking through the line in Red Rover—or not. Now, in most schools, the game has been banned as too dangerous. However, younger students still play their endless games of tag—or their favorite variation, chase, where girls try to catch boys or vice-versa. As both a teacher and a principal, I loved watching children at play at recess.

  5. We did a lot of things when we were young that are either banned now, or the kids just aren’t as energetic – I don’t know which. But, somehow we survived, and became contributing adults.Thanks for the kind remarks.

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