Free play is child-initiated and child-directed. It gives students the opportunity to become independent, to build their creativity and imagination, and to learn to collaborate with others. Free play does not include time with electronics, such as television, video games, or computers.
Structured games, on the other hand, are usually adult-organized, have pre-determined rules and roles for each participant, and often require special materials and equipment. Structured games, when added to free play, benefit our students by teaching them sportsmanship and teamwork, how to follow directions, and how to take responsibility.
Last school year, after contemplating the pros and cons of structured games vs. free play, the administration and I came to the conclusion that a balance between both is most beneficial for our students.
With this in mind, last year we began to introduce optional organized games and activities. Reactions to the change were quite positive and encouraging. After receiving feedback from families, teachers, and students, we decided to continue to offer optional structured recess games this school year, and to move forward with even more new activities.
At the beginning of the year, with the help of our student council representatives, we completed a survey to get students' own input and ideas about what recess activities to offer. They had many fun suggestions. Some ideas were not feasible on the school playground, but were possible at the baseball field we use during the fall and spring seasons.
The survey results encouraged us to alternate between physical activities and creative arts and crafts activities. We have also introduced music to the playground to accompany students jumping rope, hula hooping, or doing gymnastics, and have begun to spread mats on the turf to aid our enthusiastic young gymnasts.
Origami – A fun activity that also helps develop cognitive and motor skills. Origami teaches children to listen carefully to instructions and to be patient. It is also a cooperative activity – kids from different grade levels can participate and help each other. Sometime the younger kids even teach the older ones!
Rainbow Loom Bracelets – Making bracelets first became popular with Upper Elementary School students, but once we introduced it to our younger students it became one of their favorite activities! Bracelet-making helps students learn to follow directions and develops creativity and focus. Many students make bracelets to give to their friends.
Jedi – Named after the Star Wars characters, Jedi is a gentler form of dodge ball that uses soft nerf balls. It is a very energetic, active game, that teaches sportsmanship and teamwork. By mixing students together, Jedi also creates opportunities for making new friends.
Parachute – Parachute is very popular among our 1st and 2nd graders. It reinforces cooperation, sharing, and taking turns, requires following directions, and is a non-competitive activity.
In the next few weeks, we are looking forward to starting several exciting new activities, including Zumba, Cooperative Hoops, “All Tangled up" and Spud. We will be returning to the field, where kids have a large open space to play soccer and football, and will begin new arts and crafts activities.
Our goal on the playground is to create a safe and happy environment. Whether through organized games or free play, we always strive to help our students grow and develop their social, emotional and physical skills.