Category Archives: Recess

School Awakenings

It’s Monday morning and recent history tells us that somewhere in the world kids are returning to school for the first time in weeks, or months. As the day gets underway, parents, students and teachers are trying to chart their way through a maelstrom of colliding emotions – excitement, anticipation, uncertainty and anxiety.

Martin Rowson – The Guardian

This morning, England is testing the waters. There had been some thought that this milestone would be a UK-wide kind of effort but neither Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland were keen to sign on. Numerous local education authorities in England have also decided to disregard the June date and are keeping schools closed. Results of an opinion poll published May 24 in The Guardian show only 50% of parents supported a June 1 resumption of classes.

As of May 25, UNESCO estimates that a staggering 1.2 billion learners worldwide continue to be out of school due to closures that are part of the public health and policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Overarching lock down and shelter-in-place directives of varying severity have contributed to a massive, months long disruption of children’s daily lives on a scale rarely experienced.

The impacts of closures go well beyond the realms of education and teaching time. Immunization programs, hosted by schools in some jurisdictions, are currently being interrupted. In lower and middle income countries this may have devastating consequences. Higher income countries could also find themselves at risk and are preparing for continuity as per Canada’s plan.

Schools also play an important role in alleviating food insecurity. Breakfast and lunch programs promote healthy foods and nutritional meals. In lower and middle income countries these school food programs are critical to students’ well-being. Research indicates that universal programs can result in significant, long term health and economic benefits. In some communities, such as Calgary, programs have been maintained throughout the pandemic and kids continue to benefit from healthy meals. However, this is not the case for many children.

On an education note, online/distance/emergency/home learning is meeting with mixed results for both parents and kids. At the primary level when it’s working reasonably well, internet-based instruction is helping kids to keep sharp in key foundational areas like numeracy and literacy. However, not all children have access to the internet, or a computer. For them, keeping academically fresh is an uphill struggle.

But the school ethos is not exclusively about academics and curriculum, certainly not from the vantage point of the kids themselves. They miss the social setting, a gathering and growing place for peers, and perhaps most tellingly they long for the friendships that help define who they are and engender a sense of belonging. This absence of presence, the seemingly endless being apart, evokes loss and sorrow as represented by our youngest daughter’s stripped down, open-ended refrain.

I just want to know
when will I ever get to play tag with my friends again?

 

In Sweden, kids have been playing with their friends all the while as schools were never shuttered. There have been some exceptions to this with localized closures for individual schools that experienced outbreaks. A lack of COVID-19 data collection from these schools is being decried by some in the scientific community as a missed window to better understanding how the virus impacts children and what role they may have in transmission. Overall the Swedish government approach to the pandemic has eschewed lock downs and other restrictions counting on citizens to do the right thing.

In mid-April, Danish kids are the first to break out of lock down as school bells signal the resumption of classes. Hygiene and distancing considerations are paramount as are creative solutions to space shortages (video).

Two key documents published by WHO and UNICEF – Considerations for school-related public health measures in the context of COVID-19 and Key Messages and Actions for COVID-19 Prevention and Control in Schools – are assisting administrators, teachers, parents, caregivers and students with the transition back to school.

Full or partial openings in other countries and jurisdictions followed the Danish lead. It’s not the same old, same old as these photos from around the world capture a noticeably different look and feel. Kids in Australia, Austria, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Quebec, Taiwan, Vietnam and other venues are well on the way to developing routines that embrace a new normal. The most significant setback occurred last week in South Korea where more than 250 schools were closed.

As more children return to classrooms, governments need to broadly share best practices developed within their own jurisdictions. First and foremost, there must be an underlying commitment to follow the science. Also critical are key tools to build and maintain trust such as public engagement and outreach to parents. At a minimum, detailed plans – like this one from a British Columbia school district – documenting the return process should be made available to parents in advance of openings.

Consensus is coalescing around three priority areas that have the ability to give returning students a boost. PLAY, OUTDOOR LEARNING and RECESS are relatable for kids as they shift from home isolation to a rediscovery of peers in a school-based community. In the lead up to UK school openings, discussion around these themes has been very much in evidence.

Dr. Helen Dodd is a Professor of Child Psychology at the University of Reading. She is a charter member with other mental health experts of a newly formed ad hoc group, Play First UK which seeks to give greater voice to the needs and aspirations of children during the pandemic. We had an opportunity to speak last month.

Play First UK recommends that kids should be allowed to play with their peers as soon as possible as lock downs are loosened. These peer relationships are voluntary, equal and require negotiation and compromise. Research and observation show that play with peers allows children to learn to regulate their emotions, develop social skills and form a sense of identity. When this is not possible over extended periods kids can get lonely and feel socially isolated.

We’re anticipating a huge increase for child psychology services
when we come out of this lock down period.

To offer kids a softer landing during school return transitions, Play First UK is advocating for more play. They have sent a series of recommendations to governments in Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast and to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children.

  • The easing of lock down restrictions should be done in a way that provides all children with the time and opportunity to play with peers, in and outside of school, and even while social distancing measures remain in place.
  • Schools should be appropriately resourced and given clear guidance on how to support children’s emotional wellbeing during the transition period as schools reopen. Play should be a priority during this time, rather than academic progress.
  • Public health communications must recognise that many parents and teachers are anxious about their child’s academic progress and the risk posed to children in easing lockdown restrictions. The social and emotional benefits of play and interaction with peers must be clearly communicated, alongside guidance on the objective risks to children.

Click through for full recommendations and letter.

From Dr. Dodd’s perspective, we could all do with an empathy top up and remember that we’re in uncharted territory.

“The kids will have to settle emotionally before we can really engage in teaching them. We’re not saying to play all the time but to go easy on them – a bit more time with their peers, a bit more outdoor play and some more outdoor learning, a bit more physically active for a while and why not? All of this is good for kids anyway and will be positive experiences for most children.”

Outdoor learning is generating some good conversation in the UK and is being put into practice in Scandinavia and other European countries. The UK, Scotland in particular, is developing some expertise in this area.

Juliet Roberston is a former Head Teacher in three different schools located in northern Scotland. She left the education system about a decade ago to dig more deeply into outdoor learning and play and is in demand by a number of local authorities and schools. You can find her @CreativeStar on Twitter. She is the author of Messy Maths – A Playful Outdoor Approach to Early Years. We spoke in May.

Think of the outdoors as additional rooms and
just like an indoor class develop routines around the space.

 

Robertson is among a group of practitioners who believe outdoor learning could play an important element in helping to maintain physical distancing. She also notes that just by being outside the probability of transmission is reduced. There are also mental health benefits associated with being outdoors that are present at any time but may prove helpful in a school re-entry transition.

Even though outdoor learning in Scotland has been a part of the curriculum since 2004, Robertson realizes there will still need to be reassurances for teaching staff.  Fortunately, there is good infrastructure in place. Numerous resources and organizations focus on preparing teachers and leaders for outdoor learning. Keep your eyes open as good workshops are available like one I attended online a couple of weeks ago – Learning to Return Outdoors – Use of school grounds for curricular learning as schools tackle Covid-19 provided by Learning Through Landscapes.

Then there is recess, the only block of time in the school day to have garnered its own cartoon show. Definitely a favourite in our house no matter what time of year we poll the three kids. Now the Global Recess Alliance, “a newly formed group of scholars, health professionals, and education leaders, argues that attention to recess during school reopening is essential.”

The Alliance’s Statement on Recess has great practical advice that touches on rethinking school recess policies, safe recess practices and supporting a safe and healthy recess.

I particularly liked this safe recess practice –

“Recognize the importance of physically active play and consider a risk-benefit approach; strict rules like ‘no running’ and ‘no ball throwing can undermine the benefits of play and physical activity.”

As schools reopen, we can see it as an opportunity to request more time for play, more time in the outdoors and a don’t mess with recess policy. From the top of this hill, the grass sure is looking greener on the other side

End note – our kids don’t return to school until September. They were disappointed when they got the news. We were not. That’s because we work from home and we’re not adverse to a little more close-knit time together. We are very grateful for this and recognize that not everyone has the same flexibility. With the additional time, we are hoping that our kids’ schools will be able to better prepare for openings and benefit from best practices pioneered in other jurisdictions.

A heartfelt thanks to our kids’ teachers. They pulled the pieces together to enable the online learning experience to work for the students. They were there for the kids, connected with them and encouraged them to do their best.

A couple of weeks ago we ‘bubbled’ with our next door neighbours. They have one young lad. It was a wonderful boost to bring the two households together and see the incredible play impact it had and continues to have on what is now a merry band of four. We are hopefully anticipating the continued easing of restrictions.

There is a lot of great work underway as we live though these extreme times. These are just a few representative samples:

Covid-19 and children: what does the science tell us, and what does this mean as the lock down is eased? – Tim Gill – Rethinking Childhood

Reopening schools – how do we decide what’s best? – Simon Weedy – Child in the City

Academics highlight children’s need for street play during lockdown – Policy for Play

Learning to Return Outdoors – learning outdoors as schools return – Learning Through Landscapes

Short Meditation on Play

There’s nothing comparable to the ricocheting crescendos of laughing kids engrossed in play. In urban environments and natural settings, kids just want to have fun.  Is there anything more hopeful than a gaggle of kids playing together, leading their own adventures?

Our kids live to play. In the morning they are thinking of what they will be doing after school with their friends. It’s a simple and compelling rhythm. Each day the dance varies but it is always recognizable.  It’s been about 50 years since play has been my ‘core’ activity. I think it’s high time that I start to nudge it back in that direction.

 

I’m going to look to my own kids for inspiration and see if I can plug into a little  of their mischief and merriment. Moments spent in play with them are thoroughly enjoyable.  I count myself as fortunate when I’m invited to participate, or get to see this play up close. It fills my heart. In fact, I’ve been dreaming of a job as an embedded photographer documenting the spontaneity of kids at play. Please recommend me if you hear of any openings.

And there’s always a vicarious bump of adrenalin and excitement when I witness kids immersed in the moment. The tumultuous racket of school recesses never fails to grab my attention. The next time you pass by a school during recess, stop, look and listen.

 

For the 15 minutes of glorious release, the school playground is like an orchestra in motion, kinetic soundscapes of bobbing colour. This is where the kids rule, where they run, talk, laugh, find common cause and resolve disputes. This is where their thirst for free form fun is getting quenched. When I do get the chance to hear it, that rolling wave of sound made possible by a critical mass of kids, I invariably smile. It takes me back to my own childhood, to british bulldog, red rover, tag, sports and the freedom to play.

Where are you transported to when you imagine yourself at play?

Popular PlayGroundology Posts Year 2

Four posts from PlayGroundology’s second year that were popular with readers. Check them out if you didn’t see them first time around.

Lights, Camera, Action

Actually this post is about school, recess and playgrounds. These three words should be as intrinsically linked in the popular consciousness as the trio in the title. There’s just as much drama and adventure on most recess playgrounds as there is on a movie shoot. Recess action for the most part is unrehearsed and the cast are all naturals – it’s an organic kind of thing. Thanks to @kindlinglily for sending this story across the pond.More…

________________________________________________________

Eden’s Fallen Log

Over a period of ten years, the Eden Project in Cornwall, England has transformed a disused clay mine into a lush and fertile oasis. Environmental, educational and cultural discoveries are the heartbeat of this wonderland. More…

______________________________________________________

Himmelhøj – Sky High – Copenhagen, Denmark

Since he was a young boy growing up in his adopted Australia, Alfio Bonanno knew he wanted to be an artist. At the age of 14, with the full support of his Italian family, he embarked on his apprenticeship in art. From the outset, he was drawn to the materials and the look of the natural world. He’s been on a global walkabout ever since. More…

________________________________________________________

In Montreal The Swings Are Alive With The Sound of Music

These are sweetnote dreamswings an innovation in play and sound. The 21 swings installation is located in Montreal’s Quartier des spectacles on the Promenade des Artistes. This is part of the city’s celebrated arts district where the Jazz Festival and Just for Laughs strut their stuff. Now strangers can make music together by leaning back and kicking for the sky. More…

Ballon Poire – Pear Ball

Ballon poire is a very popular Quebec schoolyard game. This excerpt from a lively sock it to you match up was shot near Parc Jarry in Montreal earlier this spring.

The structures are made specifically for ballon poire. Eye – hand coordination is a definite asset when sending this ball on its spin cycle. Looks like a fun way to spend recess.

All I Need to Know I Learned at the Playground

Today we feature a guest post from Meg Rosker. Meg lives with her 3 children and her husband on the beach in sunny Florida. She is a former public school teacher and blogs at Let Children Play. She started her website after she discovered that her son’s school doesn’t provide any recess for children after kindergarten. Now she writes to inspire families and educators to play and spread the word about its importance in the lives of all children.

Today I went to the park with my kids. This is part of our daily routine. We usually meet up with a few other families in the mid afternoon and play until dinner. Today I spent a great deal of time with my youngest son who just turned two. My older kids, 4 and 6, had run off to take a walk around the lake with their friends, so the little guy and I were left alone. We rode the big purple, bouncing dinosaur. I pushed him on the swing. He threw some mulch around.

I was bored. I wanted to talk to the other moms, but they were off walking around the lake too. Now I was bored and bummed. Then I remembered my blog. “Oh, yeah.”, I said to myself. “I write about play every day. In fact I write about how parents are supposed to play WITH their kids.” Oops.

We headed for the slides. I scooped him up and sat him on my lap and away we went, flying faster than a rocket down, down, down, around the curling elbows of the slide and then plop! out the bottom. It was fun. He ran up the stairs for another turn and another and another and another. By the third time I was making up games on the steps, jumping up and down as he went. By the fourth time I was singing, loudly. By the fifth time I was completely insane, singing, jumping, shaking my behind to some imaginary beat. He laughed and away we went down the slide…again.

I lured him over to the lake where he watched a great blue heron and then tried to wade into the water to chase the ducks. I calmly warned of alligators and snakes, but he only stared up at me with big, blue, blank eyes.

All too soon the older children arrived back at the playground and it was time to pack muddy feet and tired bodies into the van. It had been a playful day and I had been reminded of something really, really important.

Playing with our kids isn’t something we just discuss it is something we need to do. We need to play every day so that we can remember how important it is in our lives.

I believe that one of the reasons we have strayed so far from our natural tendencies to let children play is because in the rush of adulthood and all its pressures we have left our playful side to stagnate. In a fog of responsibilities and deadlines we have forgotten how much fun it is to play and how effortlessly we learn when we do. Instead we are passing along the same structure of evaluations and overly scheduled days that many of us dislike. Why not give the gift of play instead?

So what did I learn at the playground today? I was reminded that the experiences we gather while in play are invaluable. It is through spontaneous discovery that I recalled the importance of play. We must use play as a tool, just as we use science or math or reading. We must hold play as important and treat it as sacred. If we teach this to our children, if we show them that we can learn through play, they certainly will too.

Lights, Camera, Action

Actually this post is about school, recess and playgrounds. These three words should be as intrinsically linked in the popular consciousness as the trio in the title. There’s just as much drama and adventure on most recess playgrounds as there is on a movie shoot. Recess action for the most part is unrehearsed and the cast are all naturals – it’s an organic kind of thing. Really what we have is a linear progression in that string of words, a causality of sorts – a place of learning, a time for release, and a designated space for physical play.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been giving more thought to recess. We are in our first real snap of cold and snow on Nova Scotia’s Halifax coastline. Our primary school aged son has come home on a couple of occasions recently lamenting that there has been no recess and no outdoor play at lunch. The cold, cold is the culprit with temperatures plummeting for a few days into the feels like -25°C (-13°F) with wind chill.

Cancellation of recess for reasons of severe cold is a quandary that school boards and principals in many parts of the world have to deal with each winter. Here in the tundra. on the up side of North America’s 49th parallel, the cold temperatures threshold resulting in cancellations varies. In Edmonton it’s -23°C (-9°F), in Winnipeg -30°C (-22°F), in Toronto -28°C (-18°F). When the cold fronts and extreme temps move on, the kids get back out to play and this is a very fine thing indeed for both kids and teachers I’m sure.

In Halifax the kids are back out now blowing off steam, having some fun. We’re fortunate that our schools are well equipped with playgrounds and other play areas. More importantly, there is a commitment to making this time available to the kids for unstructured, free play. The best of the best, these playgrounds – maintained and operated by the municipality not the school board – are accessible to the public virtually 24/7.

This happy state of affairs is not the case in all jurisdictions. Through my recent, late adopter adventures in twitterland, I’ve discovered that there are some places where recess has been shut down. It just doesn’t exist any longer. Fellow blogger and twitterite Meg Rosker is campaigning to bring back recess at her local elementary school in Redington Shores, Florida. When I read about her campaign, I had a bit of fun tweeting a riff which Meg joined.

@playgroundology
school without recess is like peanut butter without jelly.

@megroskerplay
school without recess is like summer without ice cream.

@playgroundology
school with out recess is like the sky without a sun

@megroskerplay
school without recess is like a smore without marshmallows.

@playgroundology
school without recess is like a rainbow without the colour.

@megroskerplay
school without recess is like Halloween without candy.

@playgroundology
school without recess is like humour without laughter

You get the drift, we think that schools and recess are inseparable companions like rough and tumble, best buddies like Toopy and Binoo. We’re not alone. The New York Times has reported on the results of a study by the Albert Einstein School of Medicine. The study provides empirical evidence for what many of us know viscerally – recess and play are good for kids – mentally and physically.

The next time you pass by a school at recess, stop, look and listen. The playground is like an orchestra in motion, kinetic soundscapes of bobbing colour. This is where the kids rule, where they run, talk, laugh and find common cause. This is where their thirst for free form fun is getting quenched. When I do get the chance to hear it, that rolling crescendo made possible by a critical mass of kids, I invariably smile. It takes me back to my own childhood, to british bulldog, red rover, tag, sports and the freedom to play.

If you’re in a school district where recess is under threat, join up with other parents and present school board officials with evidence-based studies on the value of recess for our children. There are a number of helpful documents posted on Carol Torgan’s 100+ Top Play Resources page, in particular the ‘Guidelines and Reports’ section. There’s also the U.S. based National Association for Sports and Physical Education site. Just pump in ‘recess’ in their search function and you’ll get a good cross section of material such as this position statement that also includes a brief bibliography.

_________________________________________________________

Please join Meg and I’s riff by completing this sentence:

school without recess is like…..

Tweet your responses to @playgroundology or email to playgroundology@gmail.com.

A parting thought…

All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2011 Alex Smith.

If you’re a non-profit or not-for-profit group, feel free to hyperlink, excerpt, or reproduce the contents of this post. Please reference PlayGroundology. For commercial reproduction of this content, please consult the editor.