In the 1950s, when I went to elementary school at Coggin Ward in Brownwood, Texas, we had two recesses, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The op-ed article from the New York Times today (see link below) decries the lack of playtime in childhood and the problems encountered at recess — bullying, arguing, intimidation — so much so, that recess coaches have been appointed for troubled schools and playgrounds. “For children in past eras, participating in the culture of childhood was a socializing process. They learned to settle their own quarrels, to make and break their own rules, and to respect the rights of others. They learned that friends could be mean as well as kind, and that life was not always fair”, so writes David Elkind.
I loved recess at Coggin! Not so much to escape academics because I loved most of my classes, but I engaged recess like a high form of testing my strength against my weaknesses — running, jumping, kicking soccer balls, escaping from tag, hitting the baseball, even playing mumblepeg on school grounds (pocketknife game, we all carried them).
I used a 620 Kodak camera to take these pictures of us playing baseball in ca. March 1955, at Coggin Ward school. (Mother used the Kodak to capture pictures of Camp Bowie and my father in the 1940s.) Dale Smith was a good friend of mine and quite talented in athletics.
These photographs show no recess coaches. I think there were a couple of teachers observing from the building, but they were never interventionists in our play and gaming unless a major squabble broke out (I don’t remember any). We chose sides to play baseball. There was some organization every now and then — calesthentics were occasionally forced upon us. In the choosing of sides, athletic ability carried the most importance, then popularity. Even the poorest-talented boy would be chosen to play for there was no sulking allowed we ordered. I learned that life was not always fair and good, but most of the time the shame and failure could be overcome by coming up to bat again, having another chance for a hit to drive in Henley from second base. There was always another chance at the plate, and, even then, there was tomorrow’s recess to score a point to win the game.
Television, computer games and other devices have robbed children and adolescents of time outside in the sun and wind and rain. Look at the trees in the photographs. It’s late winter, early spring and the leaves are not even out on the trees. I can tell you that we would play at recess as long as the dust did not obscure second base from homeplate. We learned to play and adapt to each other. Oh, these were “social skill sets” that we carried into life beyond Coggin, beyond Brownwood High School. It may be strange for us of the 1940s and 1950s to visualize a recess coach on the playground, but if that is needed to get boys and girls, young men and women, out of boxes called classrooms and houses, then so be it. I think I’ll apply to be a recess coach in my retirement. I’d rather be on the playground than behind a lectern on any sunny day of the year.
Choose sides, boys! I want Dale, Joe and Jimmy on my side. Carol will lead the cheers. It won’t turn out that way, but that’s life, a lesson I learned at recess.
Op-Ed Contributor – At Schools, Playtime Is Over – NYTimes.com. This is the link to the New York Times article explaining the socialization problems of modern youth.
18 responses to “It’s Recess! Coggin Ward 1955”
Two spellings have emerged for the pen knife game: “mumbley” and “mumblety.” Mumbley seems to be idiosyncratic, local-color usage, for Texas. Charlotte Henley, old classmate of mine, brought it to my attention. I performed a Q&D (quick and dirty) search and came up with the two spellings. I used mumbley after giving a cursory Google-spelling search. I’ll do more research on this later today. My conventions are not listed, but I have a blog page, not posted, with all my conventions. Writing? Strunk & White, by all means.
Mumbley or mumblety? Click for a quick reference.
I LOVE this post! Gives me great inspiration for something of my own. And you’re right – we solved a lot of pressing problems at recess, and learned about negotiating our own little worlds. Good writing.
Bunny: Good, glad it inspires and can’t wait to read your composition. You must have a story or two about recess in eastern New Mexico.
Recess. Thank you for reminding me of these wonderful times. I, too, loved school and the academic side of it, but recess was where life lessons were really learned. I wasn’t much of an athlete, but sure liked being outside. I love the b&w photos. How nice that you still have them and can now share them with us.
You would be picked real soon.
Why, thank ya : )
I’m not a fan of Wikipedia, but for another source on the word,
Mumblety-peg (also known as mumblepeg, mumble-the-peg, mumbledepeg or mumble-de-peg) is an old outdoor game played by children using pocketknives. The term “Mumblety-peg” came from the practice of putting a peg of about 2 or 3 inches into the ground. The loser of the game had to take it out with his teeth. Mumbletypeg was very popular as a schoolyard game in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries, but with increased concern over child safety the game has declined in popularity. The game continued as a popular activity at summer camps into the 1970s. It has gained popularity in South Dakota over the years.
Mumblety-peg by Wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mumblety-peg
From 1947 through 1953 I, too, attended Coggin Ward, so I was very excited about your post. And it did not disappoint! To add to your list of recess fun, we played jacks, kickball (baseball rules but we kicked a basketball) and bottle races. The latter was unique–I have never met anyone who knew this game. Two teams rushed to a “home” place where a number of coke bottles had to be shifted from one circle to an adjoining one, then raced back to touch the hand of the next player.
I loved the childhoods we shared back then and you captured it well. I still have jacks in my collection!
Thank you pjwiles for your comment. No, I’ve not heard of the bottle races. Sounds like fun. You were a year ahead of me at Coggin, it seems?
I also had a Kodak Instamatic 104, in fact I still have it, but the pictures are long gone.
Recess was a fun time growing up in school, great exercise, team work, competition and social skills, most of which are lacking in kids nowadays. As I recall the same fun at school was carried out at home and our parents were always trying to get us to come in from playing outside. We had hide and go seek, kick the can, hop scotch , and don’t forget paper dolls. Now a days kids cannot be convinced to go outside. I now wonder if we have done more harm to our children with all the new technology.
In some ways we have done more harm than good. There’s good there in technology, but how many kids nowadays can’t wait to get home to go outside! and play and get a game together of whatever? We used to play around the whole block, then on a vacant lot until the sun went down. Some old things we have to reestablish, Evangeline.
Great post (as always), Jack. I think removing PE from many of our school systems also contributed to students’ lack of socialization. The terrible irony behind what the Helicopter Parents wrought is that American students lag behind so many countries in reading, math, and science. College counselors call those who go to college ‘crispies’ — because they’re burned out. I read the NYT article and agree that childhood today can’t be recreated — my father rode a horse to school — but this doesn’t mean childhood has to be destroyed. Recess and sports are great avenues for building social skills, decision-making skills, and so on. I can only say that if schools need recess coaches and kids spend so much time with electronic devices and if kids are obese, this is a direct result of parenting skills — or lack thereof. A six-year-old child usually has neither the resources nor the capabilities to buy and install a computer without parental or guardianship help. But a six-year-old child can learn greed and manipulation and laziness if parents/guardians give in to every whim. And this same child can become a bully or join a gang if h/s lacks positive socialization skills. So, do away with computers? No. Let’s recognize that for everything there is a season . . . . And, Jack, those black high top sneakers were the cat’s meow!
Kittie: So complicated, but you have thinned out some of the problems. Agreed, parents and guardians start the socialization process. I see so many problems at the college level. A lot of it is the physical weakness (out of shape, un-energetic) that comes on them plus they work and have families. So much to do, so little time. I guess begin somewhere? Recess like we used to have is a start.
Great posting…ah, memories of recess. Tetherball! The bars! (The blisters!) Driving through Taos the other morning, I saw a group of kids at the elementary school, out playing in the field, kicking a ball around, with snow on the ground. It gave me hope.
Oh, yes, the blisters. Wished I had seen the kids in Taos, playing with snow around. Beautiful.
I just published an article describing why I think that Elkind’s article is a betrayal of the “free play” movement that he helped start. Check it out:
The Neville Chamberlain of Free Play
Wonderful to run across this post. I searched on Coggin, looking for pictures of my old school. I started first grade there in fall of ’55. I lived on Avenue D between First and Second Streets. Many fond memories of both recess and classrooms with some wonderful teachers and classmates, a few of whom I still know.
Oh yes, Jerry. What a wonderful memory those pictures bring up.