This year, I started teaching at my seventh school. I always find it interesting to do my first duty in a new environment, as it’s intriguing to watch how children interact with each other, how they interact with you, and what problems may occur. I’ve now finished four duties at my new school — two inside and two outside — and I’m amazed by what I’ve observed. There are very few, if any, problems, and those that do occur, are small ones.
I started to wonder why this might be the case. I think that there could be many factors.
- The size of the school. I now teach at a very small school with as many staff members in the entire school as there were last year in just the Kindergarten team. Fewer students sometimes equate to fewer problems.
- The socioeconomic background of the families. For the past couple of years, I taught at a school with a very high poverty rate. When students may be coming to school without breakfast in the morning, the ability to stay calm and resolve day-to-day recess problems can be a lot more challenging.
- The strong belief held by all staff members that children are “competent and capable.” This actually makes me think of the new Kindergarten document. It really is quite amazing to see this belief in action. All staff members trust the students, and allow them to be independent, whether during recess or class time. Even Kindergarten students feel confident going into the primary bathrooms (if need be), walking down to the office, or finding different rooms (e.g., the music room). The size of the school definitely helps with this, as all of the rooms are on one floor, and the entire school is a circle. That said, when children have this sense of responsibility and feel this trust, I wonder if it transfers down to everything that they do, including their interactions on the playground.
- The positive way that all of the adults in the building interact with children. I never hear any raised voices. Everyone in the building is calm, and I think that this “calmness” transfers to the students. This doesn’t mean that problems don’t occur, but I think that the children truly feel as though everyone cares about them, and this mutual respect makes a huge difference. As I think back to Susan Hopkins‘ blog post on Self-Reg Havens, I can’t help but wonder if I’ve just stepped into one.
- Space. Even though the inside of the school is small, the outside is quite large. Kindergarten students do not use this playground during the nutrition breaks, and there are two big, separate areas for primary (Grades 1-3) and junior (Grades 4-6) students. With a massive play structure (probably the biggest one I’ve seen at any of the schools that I’ve taught at before), grass to run on, benches to sit and talk on, and a basketball court to use, there are tons of loud and quiet places to meet the varied needs of students. When children have room to move and multiple areas to meet their diverse needs, fewer problems seem to occur.
I know that there are some points on this list that are out of our control.
- Some schools are big and some are small.
- Some schools are in areas with high poverty rates, and some are not.
- Some schools have more outdoor equipment options and playground space, and some don’t.
Even with these differences though, I can’t help but wonder, what is in our control to change? Would more positive recess experiences lead to more positive classroom experiences? It definitely makes my heart happy to see children smiling, having fun, and interacting with each other in wonderful ways both inside and outside of the school doors. This is definitely a feeling that’s worth replicating!
Interesting observations! We have split our students this year so that half are inside eating and half are outside playing! I think this means I’m looking at about 300 less kids. We have also been able to remove the boundaries that we spent far too much time policing as it was basically invisible to most little kids! I actually enjoyed my duty!! No one got hurt and I could easily see the students standing alone that may be in need of a friend! It was so nice to see kids engaged and playing in a good amount of space! No longer will I dread that outdoor duty!!!
Thanks for chiming in here, Lori! I think that space is definitely key. I wonder how this also applies to “in the classroom,” and the need for space for children to learn. Glad to hear that the changes at your school made recess time more enjoyable for you too … I felt the same way!
Hi Aviva – Chiming in here with Lori, we work at the same school, so have also had to find workarounds to the large school population. My teaching partner and I have found that our children are much happier, we can spend more time exploring, and have fewer challenges when we head outside to the back field rather than the concrete jungle of our designated kinder yard. We have the flexibility in kinder to head outside during instructional time, so we are able to use the space typically used by the older children without interfering in their time and space. School, in many ways, can be an imposition on the body, so finding ways to make their (and our!) bodies freer contributes to self-reg. Fewer bodies and larger, alternate spaces allow this to happen.
Thanks for chiming in here, Cory! I completely agree with you. At our school, the Kindegarten students use this primary/junior play space when the other students are in the school. It’s great to have them explore this space, and have the room to socialize and engage in physical activity. We’ve also started splitting our two classes, and having half of the students use our outdoor classroom during this time. Then they come out to this other area at the end of the day. This gives us a smaller group of students to get to know better and support, and gives all of the students a chance to use both areas, but at different times. This also means fewer students in the classroom — and more space in there — which also helps with “calmness” and “learning.”
I agree that happy recess time leads to happier students during learning time. The school I have returned to this year has 2 distinctly different yard spaces – one for FDK and grade 1 students and another for the rest of the school. While the FDK/1 yard has a smaller footprint, it has equipment for the kids to play on and with. In the past this is the yard I had duty on all the time and while there would be squables every now and then about equipment, for the most part the lids had fun and were ready to learn when they came back in.
The other larger yard has basketball nets and a soccer pitch, a few games painted on the pavement and not much else. I have not often had duty on this yard in past years, but now that I am teaching junior grades all my duty is here. What I have noticed this past week if that the space allows for students to spread out, but it is harded to monitor them all. I have observed that for many of the students attending this open, unstructured space is too much for them. They struggle with coming up with games to play, regulating their responses and staying out of “trouble” with peers. Many just wander around and are not adequately involved in “play” or interaction with peers at all for that matter.
When I asked them about recess they all noted that they don’t know any games to play. So what I have decided I am going to do is spend our gym and QDPA periods over the upcoming weeks teaching my students some fun, more active, games to play at recess. Perhaps with a greater selection of activities they will be more engaged during the break times.
Thanks for your comment, Sarah! I love your point about equipment. If there is limited equipment, knowing options of what you can play without it is so important. I think it’s a fabulous idea to teach students options through phys-ed and DPA. I wonder if other teachers have tried this before and if they’ve noticed a difference come recess time.