An Essential Part of the Learning Process
I believe that most people who enjoy their work in the playground industry have a reason for taking an interest in the safe, free play of children. It may be mostly for the money, although there are other professions that are more lucrative than most play equipment industry jobs. It may be because of that special son or daughter. It may be because of an unfortunate accident that happened when you were younger that you want to make sure doesn't happen again.
Well, I have a special interest in playgrounds because I attended a school that didn't have one. That's right, not a single swing or standalone slide. No horizontal ladders or bright red decks that we could use to envision ourselves as pirates storming an unsuspecting sea captain.
The reason for not having the play equipment was understandable from an adult perspective. The school was brand new and was still finding ways to gather resources such as desks, books, and chalk. The lack of equipment didn't last long, either. I believe they had new equipment within a year or two, although by then I had graduated from elementary and moved on to junior high school.
But to my classmates and me, there was no excuse good enough for not having a play structure. To us, the play structure was more important than the books or desks, or at least more fun and every bit as important.
I can still remember that feeling of injustice all these years later. I can still remember some of the free play activities we did that year instead. There were still the touch-football games, although we didn't have grass either, so it made for some tough kids playing in the dirt. There were the days when we would see who could spin around the longest without falling down, and there were the days that we spent our time having staring contests.
As you can see, my classmates and I suffered dramatically from not having an imagination-stimulating play structure. Now, I understand the effects of not having a play structure to play on, but I am happy that I never had to learn the effects of not having recess at all. For, as boring and silly as our former recess activities seem to me now, they were essential in our small world of reading, writing, and arithmetic.
It was our time to get away from our teacher, and for her to get away from us. It was our time to explore relationships in a world where we got our names written on the board for talking in class. It was our time to get exercise and use up energy in a world where we were required to sit still.
I know that children are no different now than they were when I was their age. Getting outside, away from the classroom and the teacher helps a child more than just physically. It helps the child socially, mentally and emotionally.
Recess breaks up the day and offers children a "light at the end of the tunnel" when working on assignments. I often remember muttering to myself, "Only ten more minutes until recess." This would help me, as a student, keep on track with my assignment.
What would the effect be if the only thing a child could mutter to himself is, Only two more hours until my 10-minute lunch break? The child would have to keep attention on studies for a longer period of time with less opportunity for play to look forward to. I would have had a hard time with it.
For schools that are looking for opportunities to increase classroom time at the expense of recess, I would warn them to be careful. I know how my classmates and I would have responded to that. I learned from seeing how we responded to not having play equipment for a year.