May 03, 2010

Recess with no playground

We have a special guest post today from Talia Goodkin, a first-grade teacher at a bilingual school in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In her blog, "Musings of a Yanqui Teacher," she talks about what it's like to do recess duty at a school with very limited space to play:

Sometimes during recess I feel like I'm part of a psychology experiment gone horribly wrong. Our first graders are relegated to an outdoor hallway, a small patio and a small court. There are no swings, no sand, no trees, no balls—no anything but lots of cement.

The kids find their own ways to recreate what a playground would and should be providing them, but their alternatives aren't safe. For example, they hang from the underside of the stairs to emulate monkey bars, which is fun until someone coming down the stairs steps on their fingers.

If I were to try to intervene in every single thing that I felt shouldn't be happening, I would need to first make at least 10 clones of myself. Without any organized, safe outlets for their energy, many of the kids resort to what I like to call "mosh" play, wherein groups of children either run around and violently bump into each other at random, or choose certain targets to bump into on purpose. This is fun for about two minutes and 20 seconds until someone gets hurt, or until the bumping turns into kicking, which turns into hitting, which escalates into full-on war.

On Thursday, I intervened in one of the more violent looking mosh pits centered around Stefano, a student I often notice at the center of these skirmishes. I pulled him out and tried to get to the bottom of what was going on. He puffed up his chest, entirely avoided eye contact and refused to say anything other than, "They started it." I made him promise he would go play somewhere else, but the second I let him go, he ran over to one of the previous perpetrators, cornered him against the wall and hit him in the face.

At any given time, there are at least 20 kids involved in play that I consider too violent for six year olds, and that’s just the most apparent of the problems going on. The others involve a more subtle but arguably more damaging form of emotional abuse: exclusion, cliques and "you're not my friend..." bullying.

Obviously most of these problems occur at schools in cultures all over the world. Most are simply developmental. But I do wonder if there would be a lot fewer problems if the kids had more activities and more opportunities provided by the school for group/collaborative play during recess. A playground ain't gonna sprout up overnight and as the year goes on, the kids are only going to get more and more agitated with each other. Under the circumstances, how can I promote cooperative, non-violent play?


Here a few other great posts from Talia:


recess, elementary school