Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Structured vs Unstructured Recess


Sunday's New York Times has an article entitled, "Forget goofing around. Recess has a new boss." The article was about Broadway Elementary School in Newark. According to the Times, "there is no more sitting around after lunch. No more goofing off with friends. No more doing nothing." It seems Broadway Elementary has hired a recess coach who organizes daily games and students are expected to participate in the chosen activity.

Structured Recess

Broadway Elementary brought in a play facilitator in January out of exasperation with students who, left to their own devices, used to run into one another, squabble over balls and jump-ropes or monopolize the blacktop while exiling their classmates to the sidelines. Since she started, disciplinary referrals at recess have dropped by three-quarters, to an average of three a week. And injuries are no longer a daily occurrence. NYTimes

I would make the case that structured recess is not recess at all. It is in fact, physical activity directed by a play facilitator.

Unstructured recess

Free play or free form play is a type of play that we support here at Peaceful Playgrounds. People often misinterpret the organization that we provide with our many game markings and choices as "structuring" recess and incorrectly assume that we recommend that schools require participation in one of our games and activities. Nothing can be further from the truth. We believe that children should be free to choose to self select any game or activity of their choice or are free to choose to do "nothing at all".

I'll let you in on a little secret. About 50% of the games we have developed were originally designed by kids. In spending 27 years in schools and numerous playground supervision duties, when I saw kids having fun, I would ask, "what are you playing and what are the rules?" I would proceed to watch and record the play and write a set of rules designed to give the most kids the opportunity to be successful and play rather than waiting in line. The next phase was to design a marking that represented a court where kids could play the newly developed game. We learned that the markings were essential to the game becoming institutionalize at the school site. We call this principle, "out-of-sight, out-of-mind." The purpose the markings serve is to visually illustrate the various games choices that kids have to play. When the markings were not painted then children often quickly forgot about the many game options. We also learned that children were selecting less preferred game choices rather than waiting in line. Therefore, marking the games contributed to children's activity level.

At Peaceful Playgrounds our research indicates that when you enrich the playground with a variety of game markings and choices, teach children appropriate method for solving problems, and provide a consistent set of game and behavior rules it results in fewer discipline problems, few playground injuries, a reduction in bullying and more physically active children.


If I learned anything as a result of nearly 30 years in schools it is that: "Children are not the problem. It's the environment we place them in."

More more ideas about improving the school recess environment click on the links below.

Peaceful Playgrounds Program


Peaceful Playgrounds Research

Right to Recess Campaign

Why Play?

Low Cost. High Activity Playgrounds.