Category Archives: School Playgrounds

Look – Don’t Play

Something has gone terribly awry in Canada’s Ocean Playground. This September, many of the kids entering school for the first time in Nova Scotia will apparently be persona non grata on school playgrounds.

This sorry state of affairs is an unintended result of s recent policy shift. A combined safety standards and insurance SNAFU was discovered last fall. That’s the first time that kids having their fourth birthday on or before December 31 were able to start school as part a new provincial pre-primary program.

The pre-primary cohort is weighted to three and four-year-olds. That’s the nub of the problem. Off the shelf playground equipment installed in numerous schoolyards is labeled and recommended for use by kids in the five to twelve-year-old age range.

The School Insurance Program (SIP) has not recommended the use of this equipment for kids under the age of five. The institutional response from the provincial department responsible for education and from individual school districts upholds the SIP recommendation while emphasizing that SIP covers all primary school students regardless of age.

And so it goes…. none of the kids starting out in the pre-primary program will be able to play on school sanctioned playground equipment until they are in primary unless the equipment is deemed to be age appropriate.

Parents are not impressed with what is perceived as a rigid example of risk aversion as shared by PlayGroundology FB friend, Nicole Wulff:

…this just happened at our elementary school. The special ed 3-5 yo are no longer allowed on the kindergarten playground…the kids who need the most exposure to opps to improve fine and gross motor…..

 

Let’s remember that these school playgrounds are open to the public after hours and kids can play on the equipment as they choose regardless of age. This post limits itself to commenting on the play structures. It does not touch on the debate linked to early school enrollment.

There is a general recognition in all of this that playgrounds only represent one facet of engaging kids in play. Parents, educators as well as school and government officials all agree about the value and importance of play. In an ironic twist, the pre-primary program is heavily weighted to play-based learning.

 

This presents a great opportunity to introduce other forms of play into the equation. A favourite of mine that continues to gain steam around the world is ‘loose parts play’. It’s a great fit for pre-primary. I have led loose parts play events with kids ranging in age from three to twelve-years-old. It’s always been a great success. Many of the after school Excel programs throughout Halifax adopted loose parts play following a presentation on risk and play by the UK’s Tim Gill three years ago.

Resources on loose parts here and its impacts in an Australian public school setting here.

Loose Parts Play – Halifax Commons, 2017 – Read more here

This ‘look – don’t play’ SNAFU has been covered by local media including CBC, Global, CTV, The Star – Halifax and Halifax Today. It’s great seeing resources allocated to these kind of stories.

Across the country, developments led by designers, builders, parents, municipal governments, academics and recreation leaders are seeing a shift away from the old risk averse models of play to a context where risk and resilience are perceived as key elements in the renaissance of independent, outdoor play.

As the pre-primary program undergoes a major expansion in Nova Scotia this fall, let’s just make sure our smalls get plenty of play opportunities in the school environment. Loose parts play is doable from a budget, training and implementation perspective. What an opportunity…

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ScreenShot Mondays – Out2Play

A couple of Mondays per month, PlayGroundology screenshots a cyberspot that focuses on playgrounds, or play. I hope readers dive in and explore. Even if you’ve seen the selection before, take a moment and check to see what content has been added recently.

Think of this as a very slow stumble upon, an invitation to relish something new or to revisit an old friend. Some of the people and places may be household names in the world of play and playgrounds, others not so much. I hope all will pique your interest in what they have to offer and further your own possibilities for playfulness.

Out2Play

Out2Play is a New York City not for profit whose mission is to create and improve schoolyard play spaces. Under the leadership of founder Andrea Wenner, the organization has transformed well over 100 schoolyards throughout New York City since 2005. As Out2Play states on its website, “our work is about play”. Check out what they’re up to on their well organized site – project lists with photos, media coverage, project steps, resources and more.

There are tens of thousands of happier kids in New York City today as a result of partnerships with Out2Play.

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.

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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.

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