Walking through a primary school playground with a fantastic Assistant Principal last week proved to be more instructional than I could have imagined.
I’d been asked to observe the way the kids moved and interacted with a view to diagnosing just why so many student behaviour problems happen in the yard. Yep – it’s hardly an unfamiliar phenomena, but it seems to also be a perennial one.
What we noticed was that there are some playground features that are both special and high. Special in that they look supremely impressive, and high in that they create an elevated position of power for kids atop them.
Think of a rocket ship design or the helm of a replica ship. These designs look awesome in a brochure and before the kids actually use them. Playground designers will tell you they’ll create a point of difference for your school.
What they will do is create a point of conflict in your playground. Once a student, often motivated by power, climbs to the top … s/he is set up to spend the rest of recess fighting off contenders.
What we saw next to just such a McDonald’s playland inspired monstrosity was a sandpit – with several students playing cooperatively and happily. An unremarkable space populated with students playing the right way.
Your playground needs a multitude of spaces where students can play and gather like this.
Build a simple wooden platform as a stage with a few stumps before it for an eager audience, keen to cheer and clap the next makeshift performance.
Create a café style playground area where students of various cultures can faux prepare meals for each other.
Affix some chalkboards to the side of your portable classes and fill a bucket of chalk next to it every lunchtime, accepting that some chalk will go missing and that occasionally a student will draw genitals or declare that “Mr Jackson is a poo head”.
And if your playground designer wants you to build expensive parapets that ask kids to fight for positions of power over others … show that clown the door.
Keep fighting that good fight,
PS. Last week, I mentioned some cutting-edge workshops we’re running for School Leaders in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane in May/June. Given the behavioural focus of this blog, I thought I’d point you at Leading Whole School Behaviour Improvement. Be good to see you there.