Playground equipment is something that many of us who went to school in more affluent areas (or during more affluent times) take for granted. We assume that big red four-square balls and jump ropes are found at every elementary school in America, since that was part of our childhood. Some of us were really lucky and had “earth” balls and parachutes to play with; those are actually some of my best PE memories.
The reality, nowadays, is that playground equipment is much less available. Some years I got a playground ball at the beginning of the year in my classroom supplies, and some years I didn’t. It was never blown up though, and I was never given a ball pump so I usually bought or borrowed one. Sometimes there was one teacher in the school with a ball pump and everyone knew it so kids were constantly bringing in balls to be pumped up. Of course, they’d try to do it themselves and would end up bending or losing the needles so I was not only constantly buying pumps but also needles.
Most of the playground equipment was bought by teachers. Because this was true, the equipment was WELL marked. A regular kickball might have “Ms. Smith” written on it 5 times and “Room 10” another 4 or five times. You never let those words fade because then some other class would have a ball while your kids would have nothing to do at recess again. (And every teacher know that down time equals fighting).Jump ropes were a little harder, but you could fit the name and room number on the handle.
Of course, balls would end up on the roof or popped and jump ropes would mysteriously disappear. Some teachers designate equipment monitors who are the only ones who can bring out and bring in the equipment. This brings the equipment back but often leads to “You can’t touch the ball, you’re not the MONITOR!” kinds of fights. Some teachers say that if you bring the ball out you have to bring it back in but kids forget that. You’d think that in a 10-minute recess, they could remember that they brought the ball out, but they lose interest really quickly and sometimes the ball just falls out of their hand as they walk away.
Sport for Kids, now called Playworks, is a program that started in my last few years at school. It has a coach who provides equipment – and organized sports and games – for all the kids during recess and I think maybe during PE. The kids have to turn in the equipment when the bell rings and since it’s on the playground, it’s more central and easier to get everything back. And the coaches (usually there’s one and then they train some upper graders to be “junior coaches”) know how to run games and are on duty at recess and lunch, unlike the teachers.
In addition, I really can’t emphasize enough how organized games change the dynamic of recess. My first few years, we had nothing. The yard looked much like a prison yard, except maybe with fewer basketball hoops. The kids’ favorite thing to do at recess was to fight and complain that they were bored. A few years into my time there, we got a grant for landscaping and we got a play structure, some grass, and a bunch of stuff painted onto the blacktop: a map of the US, a little river, all sorts of things. Also some trees that are finally growing up.
The kids were so starved for fun things to do that the first year we had the grass, their favorite activity was just rolling on it. It was a very little slope and they would just roll down the little tiny hill, get up, run to the top, and roll down again. Over and over again.
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