September 2006

Recess or Fighting Time? You make the call


Attending UPlay! in Chicago in July, I learned a lot about what's going on out there. There are schools being built without play areas. Need I say more? I think I have to elaborate. There are schools actually being built without even consideration of a play space for children... in this nation, the United States of America. I can think of a host of words to describe the feeling this evokes, including disbelief, confusion, and concern, just to name a few.

How can this happen? There are a few different scenarios including the inner city space availability, or better explained, a lack thereof. There are actually schools in New York City that don't even have windows in every classroom and also do not have a play area because there is no place to install equipment. That can be the case where a school is built wherever a space can be found, which doesn't always include extra space for a play area. I don't mean to say that administrators have given up, but it does seem to be a difficult thing to remedy at this point in some places.

Here is the latest though: the school that is being planned, designed, and constructed without a play space considered. These are brand-new schools with space for a playground, and nobody is planning a play area. What is going to happen with the children of these schools and social interaction? l asked a parent how the children at her particular school are handling this. She told me the children fight. They go out to what could be a play area at recess and lunchtime, break into groups and fight. There is nothing to keep these children busy or provide exercise as they play, so they pick at each other and fight.

Some administrations have actually cut out recess altogether as well. These children lose that time to get out and exercise, socialize, and regroup so they can return to the classroom refreshed and ready to learn.

For years, we have fought bullying in our schools and tried to provide solutions to keep children occupied on the playground, provide physical activity, teach them to respect each other, and even just have fun. Now, some of them are being deprived of structures and playtime altogether.

It's unclear where this disconnect is, whether it's local administration or a higher power, but it doesn't make sense. Shall we just call recess fighting time? That's extreme, but it seems that is all that is being accomplished with break time in these scenarios. Doesn't this seem like all of the efforts that have been put into teaching healthy practices and respect have just been thrown out the proverbial window when we build a school without a play area? It just doesn't compute.

If it's a money issue, bring in the PTA or PTO and community organizations to help out. They do it all the time, and in the particular case l mentioned where the children fight at recess, the parents are lobbying for a playground. We are to the point where we have to lobby for play in the United States of America ... the strongest, most independent, democratic, and free nation that exists.

We are now lobbying for a fundamental and necessary practice to help raise our children to be healthy, educated, and socially adept adults, who will lead us and take care of us when we are in our golden years. Their foundation and our futures are all at stake. That's how important play really is. If it's missing in your area, don't be afraid to bring it back. Playgrounds really are an integral part of shaping our society.