Richard Armour uses a recess to study a recess

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

My program for physical fitness isn't a very vigorous one. It consists of alternately jogging and walking for a mile. The best part is when I reach precisely the halfway point. There I find something that always gives me an excuse to stop and look for a few minutes.

And what I stop for is an elementary school; further, I try to time my walking-jogging routine to coincide with a recess. I love to watch the children as they pursue their own program for physical fitness - better than mine. It consists of running, jumping, throwing a ball, and shouting with excitement and joy.

Of course, I'm sure the children don't think of what they're doing as ''physical fitness.'' It is for fun. It is their way of using the recess time: 10 or 20 minutes between classes and 30 minutes (after 15 minutes for a quick lunch) at noon.

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The other day, instead of merely pausing for a few minutes, I left my walking-jogging routine and took a recess myself. I wanted to get a close-up look to find out how the students use this precious time, what activities are most popular, and what equipment is available.

But first, so I would not be thought a questionable intruder, I sought out the principal. He was pleased that I had stopped in, and after a pleasant visit turned me over to a teacher whom he asked to show me the playground activities during a recess.

In this school I found there are three play areas. One is for children in kindergarten, one is for first-, second-, and third-graders, and one is for fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders.

The kindergarten area is fenced off from the other playgrounds. It has by far the most equipment. There are swings (with flexible leather seats that have been found safer than seats of stiff wood). There are slides, scooters, a wooden ''rocking boat,'' an open-ended barrel on its side to crawl through, and such contrivances for climbing and dangling from as a jungle gym and monkey bars.

Anything that might involve injury if there were a fall is set not on cement but on sand. And close watch is kept on the happy youngsters at play by one and sometimes two teachers as well as by a nonteaching aide. This is not an unpaid volunteer but a person paid to assist a teacher both in and outside the classroom. I was told that mothers sometimes stop by and do some watching, too.

It would be hard to pick out which piece of equipment was most used by the kindergartners while I was there. Perhaps it was the swings or the monkey bars. But there was activity everywhere, and enthusiastic shouting that never ceased.

The play areas of the first-, second-, and third-graders and of the fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders are not physically divided, and there seemed to me no great difference in equipment or activities. The teachers probably know a third-grader from a fourth-grader, but I don't.

What I noticed was that equipment for climbing, and for hanging from, lessened with the upper graders. More and more there was use of a ball, from a small ball used in handball to a large, rather soft ball used in a game called ''dodge ball.'' This game, which was new to me, vaguely resembles baseball, but involves hitting the base runner below the waist with the ball to make the runner ''out'' (but, since the ball is soft, not unconscious).

I also noticed that there were more team games with the older students, those in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades. One of the games much played, I was told, is soccer. Kicking a ball may be even more enjoyable than throwing one.

A teacher to whom I mentioned this agreed when I said I thought the baskets sere placed a bit too high. After all, a seven-foot sixth-grader, able to dunk the ball in the basket, would be somewhat rare.

A popular game for the two upper age groups seemed to be tetherball, something they didn't have back in my school days. A ball hung by a cord from an upright post was hit by players, the winner of the game being the one who made the ball go around and around until the cord was wrapped against the post.

As with the kindergarten students, the older students were constantly watched by teachers and aides, lest there be undue roughness or an accident.

The teacher ''on duty'' with whom I was talking listened and answered my questions, but her eyes were always on the students. Also watching, from the other side of the playground, was an alert aide. Safety is a prime consideration , as much with sixth-graders as with kindergartners.

I should add that in addition to the do-what-you-want-to-do recesses, students from kindergarten through third grade have physical edtcation instruction in what are called ''psychomotor'' and also ''perceptional'' skills. This (a state requirement in California) involves throwing, catching, climbing, grasping, and kicking, along with hand-and-eye and hand-and-foot relationships.

The school where I observed recess activities may not be typical, but I hope it is.

To sum up my observations:

Recess activities are closely supervised by teachers and aides.

Equipment, from the old-fashioned kind I remember to such things as the tetherball, is ample and available to all students, though sometimes one must wait one's tu2wVP yxohile playing with something else. Moreover, it is made as Safe as possible, and injurie3 are probably rare.

There is a sense of enjoyment and exqberance on the part of students. And yet they willingly and quickly return to their classrooms when the recess is over. I saw no one being coaxed, orde2ed, or dragged back to books.

Indeed, I hope these young students perform as well in their classes as they do during recess. How wonderful it would be if they could have as much fun learning as playing.

I've stalled enough - back to my jogging/walking.

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