183. Playgrounds

Outside most schools I know, there are playgrounds. To me, that means planners think school is an appropriate place for children to play. I couldn’t agree more. If you watch children at play, you may notice that young humans play the same way other young animals play – they imitate adults. They know that they’re destined to some day be adults, and they’re practicing. Play is work.
Watch any group of adults, and imagine them as children on a playground. It won’t take long to guess which adults used to get to the swings first, and maybe refused to give anyone else a turn. Maybe you’ll be able to tell which ones used to keep forgetting to bring a jumprope from home, and ended up having to borrow one. It’s not that these ideosyncrasies are indelible. Proactive supervision of the playground can have an effect on children’s behaviors and attitudes just as reading lessons can help children learn to read.
I like Robert Fulghum’s book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, but for me, second grade had some important moments, too. So did sixth grade. I guess, compared to Fulghum, I was a slow learner. I remember a lot about recess. We played a game called Keep Away. I did not like the game at all. The object of the game was to get the playground ball. Once you got it, the object was to keep it. What I learned from Keep Away was that some people are into that kind of thing. I wasn’t, but I wanted to be with the other kids, and that’s what they were all playing.
As I watched children playing at recess, I tried to teach them what I considered better ways to play. I saw baseball games in which three or four highly skilled players were on one team and everyone else was on the other team. I knew that situation from my childhood. I spent years on the other team. Being one teacher trying to get three or four skilled players to agree to fair teams reminded me of the hopeless situations I faced as a child on the playground. “It’s fair! We got only four people, and they got thirteen!” And when teams were chosen the other way, like most of you, I was always the last one picked. Mathematically speaking, we couldn’t have all been the last one chosen, but that’s how we remember it.
Luckily, there’s playground equipment. Let’s go over there and get away from all this competition. Listen to the conversations going on on the jungle gym. You’ll learn a lot about the children. Ask a child who isn’t playing kickball, “Why don’t you play kickball?” Maybe the child feels excluded, has actually been excluded, doesn’t want to play kickball, or never even thought about it. There are all kinds of possibilities.
The bell rang. It’s time to go in. To a child, recess comes at least three times per day – before school, during recess, and after lunch. Technically, the time before school shouldn’t count, but every moment spent on that playground counts. They’re getting ready for the playgrounds life will bring them later on. And they listen to the news. They know that Congress sometimes gets a three-week recess.

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