Thou Shalt Not Play Tag

(Sorry if you get this twice. Technical difficulties.)

What do you remember about recess?

What about your school ground?

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I remember…

I remember sitting in the sun, absently pulling at tough little weeds. A few sad little trees speckled the yard, wrapped in white fences. Those small trees would often become infested with tent caterpillars, and we would collect them in pits. Sometimes we would stand by the chain link fence, trying to encourage passing motorists to honk their horns. Large swaths of asphalt dominated much of the yard, where there were sometimes four-square games, and children would throw tennis balls against a wall (until the ball was (accidentally or otherwise) sent to the roof or someone got hurt and the game ended).  The play structures were highly used (what else was there to do?), but uninspiring. There was little to no shade other than that provided by the building.

Has much changed?

Many school grounds look the same: unused fields, a swath of asphalt, a couple of dinky little trees.  And, there are more rules now. Play equipment is more highly regulated since I was a child. (That means they took the fun stuff out.) Also, see these articles:

Somewhere, something went terribly wrong.

No tag. Really?

There are at least two major things that kids need that are missing (or being removed) from recess :

  1. Kids need green spaces (Here are 10 good reasons)
  2. Kids need unstructured breaks and time to play, actively….like kids.

I could make a long list of reasons these two things are important: free play fights obesity, green school grounds reduce bullying, exposure to natural spaces reduces attention difficulties, active breaks increase focus and reduce stress. The list goes on.

There is hope

Fortunately, in some places the trend seems to be changing. There is a revolution, as people gradually recognize the importance of green, unstructured play. Parent and teacher-led organizations are springing up in schools, working to green the grounds, and bring back play. I spoke about alternatives to traditional playgrounds here

My son’s school has ecologically restored areas, and a relatively large number of sizable trees (and shade!), even near the playground. Our school is very fortunate. Not all schools can say the same. (This is not his school…but it’s similar.)

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Evergreen

An organization called Evergreen Learning Grounds is a fantastic program working with local schools to green their school grounds in a sustainable and practical manner.  Evergreen fights an uphill battle against regulations and over-concerned parents. Landscape rocks are sometimes banned for fear of children hitting their heads. Sandboxes can’t go in, for fear of cats making “deposits.” One parent requested that nearby oak trees be removed for fear that their child with a nut allergy would be in danger.

Evergreen is an amazing organization, bringing experience and know-how to schools that don’t know where to start. They supply grants, information and support. They ensure that trees that are planted will be able to survive in the long term, and that natural areas are less likely to be trampled and destroyed. You can find them here: Evergreen

Play Organizations

Other organizations are trying to bring back play opportunities for children. Here are some examples.

Right to Play is trying to ensure that children have the “Right to Play” dictated by the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  This organization focuses on sports and other games.

Playworks is a US organization that is “putting the play back in recess.”

Fortunately, these types of organizations are growing in size and number. However, they still don’t always have the support they need.

Check these out:

Here are a couple of other groups doing neat and related things:

http://greeningschoolgrounds.wordpress.com/

http://playgroundology.wordpress.com/

http://thenaturalplayground.wordpress.com/

Clearly I have missed some significant organizations. There are too many to list. If you’re doing something about school grounds, recess or playgrounds too, please add the link below in the comments!

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4 Responses to Thou Shalt Not Play Tag

  1. Andrea says:

    I remember our school had a twenty foot deep area of trees at the far end of the field that was perfect for hid and seek and kick the can and capture the flag. I wonder if those trees are still there. We also had a climber we called the spider that I really liked to hang upside down off of.

  2. mary says:

    My school was on the NCC greenbelt, so the entire area behind the school was fields, then a creek, then more fields (of course, this is now interrupted by the OCTranspo transitway). but there was also a grove of trees with a sandpit in the middle. A playground for marbles, forts, anything your imagination could turn it into.

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