No bell in our school was anticipated as much or reacted to as explosively as the one for morning recess.
For me, and most of my friends, recess was what made school tolerable in the 1950s.
For the first eight of my school years, we had recess three times a day. That didn’t include play before the first school bell rang or after school for those of us who rode the buses’ second-loads.
I’m appalled when I hear students and teachers talk about how little recess children have in elementary and middle schools now. I wonder how either the kids or teachers keep their sanity.
Even though it was the shortest recess, morning recess was the one we reacted to most energetically.
Because we knew we didn’t have much time, we rushed from the classroom and often disobeyed the rule about running in the hall as we escaped to the playground.
The playground equipment was limited in our first years to a merry-go-round that we had to push ourselves and to a set of monkey bars, so we created our own games.
In one game we paired up — usually with the smaller boy climbing on the bigger boy’s back. A melee ensued in which these horses and riders tried to topple each other.
The last pair standing won. As soon as the last opponent fell, we remounted.
Sometimes we opted for tag, in which the rules and bases got thought up on the spot. Sometimes we let girls play in this game, but they usually did boring stuff like jump-rope and hopscotch.
Marble games were a staple. The bulge in your pocket on arrival and departure from school marked the success of a day as much as the grades on the papers in our school bags. Grades only trumped marble count once every six weeks when we had to take report cards home to our parents.
Marbles also were a form of currency that could be loaned. Woe to the kid who didn’t pay back a loan the next day. His credit score dropped to zero.
Depending on the season, one of us would check out some type of ball and keep it in his locker between recesses. Somebody always had a softball and a bat.
Enough of us brought our gloves to work out rules that fit the number of players.
Whatever the chosen game, we played before school, at morning recess, after we hurried through lunch and again in a period that was called P.E., but was usually just a long recess.
During those recesses, we got in a lot of physical activity that I suspect made us more manageable in class.
At recess, we made up games and agreed to rules and boundaries without adult interference unless one kid took a swing at another.
Recess gave us a chance to blow off steam, be creative and have fun.
Maybe even more important, it also taught us to think for ourselves and get along with each other.