Recess: Lessons From the Playground
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
On this beautiful fall day, I am one of three teachers on recess duty. A sense of calm fills the playground – ready for the children who love their time outside. Minutes later, 80-3rd Grade students explode onto the playground for 30 minutes of learning.
Recess – their daily, self-guided class, is officially underway.
As I stand on one end of our track, I’m in a centralized location where I witness the outdoor education in full swing:
- LESSON #1 – PROBLEM SOLVING AND DECISION MAKING
In the middle of the field I observe the early stages of a football game developing. The students thoughtfully divided the teams, ensuring the balance of power is relatively equal. I can tell the players are satisfied based on how quickly the game begins. Throughout the game I witness several small confrontations, all of which were resolved through redo’s, rock, paper scissors, or simple problem solving.
- LESSON #2 – CONFLICT RESOLUTION AND PATIENCE
Just off the track there was a game of 4-square taking place. Students were lined up, patiently waiting their turn to enter the game. Again, like the football game, there were several close calls challenging the students to resolve conflict. Despite the disputes, the game would consistently resume with no hard feelings and continued excitement.
- LESSON #3 – SOCIAL SKILLS AND COMMUNICATION
I quickly noticed the football game abruptly stop. There was a small group of boys and girls who wanted a space to play soccer. I wanted to intervene and share my solution, however I resisted the temptation to help. Instead, I observed, and within no time the football game quickly moved to the far end of the field, creating ample space for the soccer game.
- LESSON #4 – IMAGINATION AND TEXT TO LIFE CONNECTIONS
I then look beyond the track into Discovery Playground. Six students were gathering wood and branches, dragging them to a triangular structure constructed out of long sticks, resembling a tepee. To the left I witnessed two more students pretending to hunt. I soon realized they were preparing for the “long winter ahead.” Their game was based on, The Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was impressed by their connection to literature.
- LESSON #5 – CREATIVITY
As I turn to my right, toward the playground equipment, I see a flurry of activity, which at first glance, seems to be chaos. There were boys and girls running in all directions. Some were fleeing while others were chasing. The game appeared to be a variation of Capture the Flag. To an outsider, the rules seemed complicated and without boundaries. To its creators, the game made perfect sense.
- LESSON #6 – LEADERSHIP
My attention is then drawn to excitement and laughter just beyond the soccer game. A group of girls were working together to choreograph a dance. One of the girls was teaching her friends a cheer from her cheerleading team. In just a short time the girls were in sync, and had learned both the cheer and the routine.
- LESSON #7- PERSEVERANCE, EMPATHY, AND CAMARADERIE
I see a boy running alone on the track. His pace seems to quicken after each lap. I then noticed he was acquiring a fan club, which was standing next to another teacher on recess duty. As his peers began chanting his name, he began to sprint as if being chased by a dog. As he crossed in front of the teacher, he collapsed with exhaustion. The students exploded with excitement when the teacher called out, “7:21!” This was a new personal record for the runner. He apparently attempts to break his PR once a week. One of his buddies helped him up and escorted him to the water fountain. I appreciated his empathy and support.
- LESSON #8 – RESPONSIBILITY AND RESPECT
Finally, the whistle blows and recess has come to an end. 3rd Grade students immediately race to their lines. Within seconds, there are 4 lines standing at the door, ready to go inside. Three students are packing up the recess equipment into their bag when they realize a basketball is missing. Another student sees the ball near the courts, hustles over to get it, and places it in the bag.
NOW, recess is complete. Another day in the students’ outdoor classroom is a success.
From a teacher’s perspective, recess duty is an opportunity to watch students grow physically, emotionally, and socially, in an unstructured environment. It’s a time when we put the plan book away and allow PLAY to provide the lesson.
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