It is common for schools to have more than one area for recess. When it’s raining outside, we typically don’t want our students coming back into the classroom soaking wet, so we have classroom recess or they go to the gym (if the school has one). When my school added an addition to the main building, they created another outdoor play space on the roof. The top is covered to provide shade or block rain, and the perimeter is also netted to prevent people or objects from falling off. Even though is considered all weather, it still can feel like a wind tunnel on blustery days. While we hoped that because it was technically an outdoor play space the students would like the area as much as the playground and field, this was not the case, and it was viewed as the worst place to have recess. We needed something to make this space more appealing, and it would take several years before we cracked the code.
Overall, the gym was seen as far superior to the roof, and a close second to the field and playground (until basketball season). From the teachers’ perspective, the gym was an extremely chaotic sight of bouncing basketballs next to students on scooters who were dodging the hula-hoopers and jump ropers. Regardless of where we were having recess for that day, there was always someone who complained because they preferred a different play space. How are we supposed to accommodate the preferences of each student in each play area?
To be more specific, we don’t accommodate for every student at each location. Instead, we provide several unique playing experiences at each playing area so that every location seems interesting and novel.
Assign specific materials to certain recess areas
Making a not so fun area more enticing
As I stated before, the students did not like our roof play area. Cramped for space during recess, our growing school thought that adding an additional play space seemed like a no-brainer. If half the students play on the roof, and the other half plays in the field or the gym, each group has more space, which is obviously a good thing.
The students didn’t like the roof at all.
While the additional space was nice, they didn’t feel the same freedom of the field and playground, and it didn’t offer the same perks of a gymnasium (specifically basketball hoops). Because the area didn’t have the same natural play features as the other areas, we included as many different materials as we could to see if that would help the students appreciate the space more. Instead, it made the area feel more chaotic, and it made the space feel even more cramped. It wasn’t until we took away most of the materials and added one specific material that the area become a student favorite.
Previously, dodgeballs were not allowed during recess because they were expensive, easily lost, and students were accidentally hit too often. By splitting the playing area in half: one side for soccer balls and one side for the soft throwing balls, we solved the unintentional targeting problem. The dodgeballs worked perfectly on the roof because they could be thrown without worry of being lost or tearing the netting (unlike a much heavier ball). To provide more options, outside the netting we included benches and jump ropes. Many of our students love dodgeball style games, and were excited to play with them during recess. By finding the right materials and keeping separate playing areas, the roof became one of our most popular recess spots.
Helps with organization of materials (for teacher and student)
If every recess space has a cornucopia of materials available, the logistics of keeping track of your inventory becomes difficult. Lots of variety makes it easier to be disorganized. Think of a kid’s room full of different toys; the more they have, the more they are usually scattered all over the place. However, that same room can be better organized when there are fewer things with specific spots to place them, and extra toys can be stored and brought out later. Hopefully this sounds like how a Montessori classroom shelf is organized. I believe that if we use the Montessori classroom as our guide, we can do the same with our recess equipment. The more homogenous the material is at each play area, the easier it is to keep track of and organize. If the teacher only has to account for a couple types of material, the clearer it is when one or two are missing. A large variety of materials makes it easier for something to fall through the cracks, and over time this will make a lot of missing and broken stuff.
Does not overwhelm the students with choices of material
Actually liberating the student, the homogeny of the materials means the students have fewer choices per playing area. If the goal is providing the maximum amount of active time, we don’t want them arguing about what game or sport to play. We want to avoid “paralysis through analysis” by making it easier to pick from only several options instead of a bunch.
Encourages variety of play
Students tend to get in a rut and play the same game over and over again during recess. While not necessarily bad if they are enjoying themselves, usually there is a minority of students that never get an opportunity to play something different within a large group setting. Different areas, with different materials, provide more opportunities to play different games/sports and not get caught up playing the same thing over and over. An indirect goal of variety encourages our students to foster their development with different gross motor movements. However, this needs be balanced with respect to the students that recess is their free time to do want they want. Even if they have a favorite game in each area, while that does not promote as much game variety, at the very least now each area has value.
Assign appropriate materials for the play space
To maximize each recess space, we need to think about each area’s constraints. If the students are playing outside, heavier materials like soccer balls and footballs can be launched at full strength without the fear of breaking a light indoors. However, this may not be the best space for smaller objects that tend to easily disappear over fences and under bushes. Most gyms are suited for basketball, especially if they have basketball hoops installed and a semi sturdy floor to play. If there are not basketball hoops, or the students do not like basketball as much, having smaller balls in this area works because they will not get lost (unless the gym doors are left open). Understanding the limitations of each play space will help the teacher take advantage of its features. The ultimate goal is getting the student to love each and every play space that your school offers.