Free Time in School

Today in our class meeting, I had no plans and asked students if they had anything they wanted to share. After a funny conversation about how to teleport to Japanese class, one of my students brought up the very serious issue of free time. It started with a whine: The other class gets free time every day, and we don’t. I remained quiet although I’ve heard this every year.

The image of free time

The image of free time

Soon, students were jumping in with how much free time is good for them and what free time should be. Some suggested every day. Many of the girls, though, were adamant that having free time every day would not allow them to keep on top of things. They brought up our upcoming Exhibition and how they thought that our class was much more organized than the other one.

I continued to remain quiet.

As to what free time meant, students said they believed it should be whatever they want. A few brought up the fact we should have even more additional PE time. Once a week we get out to the park or our turf for some additional play time. One astute student brought up that free time=computer time and maybe that’s not what they should be doing.

After a lot of suggestions, someone restated everyone’s needs, and they agreed on Friday finish up and free time. IMG_7379Today, being Friday, they finished up their teapot package project and began their free time. I knew exactly what would happen. They took out their computers and got onto online games–social online games, but online. They sat next to each other and played games with tanks and games about shopping and accumulating points. A few played Minecraft. They played against each other, but they all stared at their screens.

I’m torn about this issue. They love playing games on their computers. They have worked really hard during Exhibition. However, staring at their computers some more doesn’t really seem very engaging or good for them.

I sound old-fashioned. I told them that at the end of the meeting. I don’t think they need any more time on their computers. Our school is a 1-1 school from grade 3- 12 although grades 3-5 can’t take their computers home. During Exhibition, for example, they have been on their computers typing, printing, designing, blogging, interviewing about 2-3 hours/day. They often listen to music while they are working and check out music videos. They text each other.

IMG_7386These are not deprived-of-technology children.

I do believe they need more free time, but free time play. I know that in Finland, elementary students get about 75 minutes of recess a day. Our students get 40 minutes, which is better than the US average, but not enough. Our PE times were cut down last year, and so we have taken our students out for an additional 45 minutes/week of play time. They love our extra PE time. They’re outside playing, running around in the park with no technology.

Yet, online games are what they crave. I end up being the mean teacher because of my resistance to giving them more “free time” on the computer. I’m that mean mom at home too with my daughter who wants to always be on the computer. My daughter even wanted to drop out of her great art studio class the other day to join a Minecraft club. What do we do? How do we incorporate this “free time?” Should we? What do you do at your schools?


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