I’m going to give a bit of positive background today: the things I enjoyed doing during recess at my various elementary schools. Some of the tangential mentions in this post aren’t pleasant, but recess was a large part of my free time and I used my free time for what I wanted. At least, as far as I was allowed to.
My formal schooling began with first grade because what would have been my kindergarten year ended up being just one long wonderful recess. I was hyperlexic, reading books before the age of 3, and I already knew basic math skills. My parents didn’t see much point in sending me to kindergarten when attending the class wouldn’t actually be teaching me anything new academically.
During that magical year of freedom I spent my time reading many books, riding my first bike, and hanging out with the little preschool-aged kids in my neighborhood. That was also the year I learned how to eat the nectar from honeysuckle flowers. I particularly enjoyed the company of the smallest children on my street and they seemed to like me too. I never got along well with the children my own age or slightly older who would storm off the bus after school and immediately begin tormenting my young friends and myself.
In first grade I discovered that books were not allowed on the playground during recess. This was a horrible thing, but there was really nothing I could do about it. I don’t specifically remember if I argued against that tyranny, but, knowing how confident I was at the beginning of that school year and how attached I was to reading, I probably did. Based on my memories of that time period, if I did argue against it then I probably ended up in either the principal’s or counselor’s office as a result. I visited their offices quite frequently that year for, mostly unremembered, “social issues.”
My teacher wanted me to play with the other children, but I much preferred to follow the butterflies, which invariably led me to a large clump of clover where I would sometimes sit for the entire recess. I looked through the clover, watched the butterflies, and picked clover flowers to make bouquets that I then had to leave on the grass when we went into class. I was also fascinated by what I now think must have been a cluster of holding ponds just beyond the fence. I would stand and watch the water through the fence until somebody would notice and invariably nudge me back towards the other children on the playground.
In second grade I moved to a private school and one of the swings became my recess refuge. There were fewer students at this school than there had been at my previous public school, but there was a sharing policy so I didn’t often get my swing for the entire recess. When I did get it, either right away or later on, it was pure bliss. I could’ve easily swung for hours if recess had lasted that long. Other kids jumped off the swings eventually and played together, but I just swung with my eyes either closed or fixed on the sky – flying through the air where nobody could bother me – for as long as I could.
By third grade I was back in a public school. The other kids were crueler at this age and I largely avoided them at recess, but for a short time I spent my recesses in a little cluster of trees playing with a couple of girls who had invented a game about baby flying ponies. It went well for a while, but then they abandoned me for unknown reasons (looking back it’s possible that they were just tired of me wanting to play the same game, basically the same way, every day) and I was left by myself.
I quickly discovered that I couldn’t play the game without the other girls. I tried many times but the magic was gone. I ended up learning to enjoy the cluster of trees by myself – sitting on a comfortable bit of tree and watching the birds while hiding from the other children.
Then, after third grade, my parents pulled me out of school to homeschool me. I will be forever thankful to them for doing that because pulling me out of school allowed me a great deal of freedom to obsessively pursue my interests and read/reread books to my heart’s content.