Playground Issues and Resolutions

Getting your students to buy into good behavior on the playground improves everyone's year.

By Greg Harrison


playground lesson plans

Without a doubt, the source of most of the problems I have had to deal with as a teacher occur out on the playground during recess.  I'm sure you've noticed the same thing. Far too many times, I've sent my calm, well-behaved class out for morning or lunch recess, only to have them return in tears - angry, frustrated, dirty, overheated and/or in trouble with one of the playground aides.  If left unchecked, these episodes can ruin the remainder of the day, and can sabotage your entire year.

In an earlier article, I wrote about how important the atmosphere in the classroom at the beginning and the ending of the school day is for me. The other really important thing that I keep an eye on are the transitions that occur during the school day. Transitions are the times of the day (and there are many of them) when your class changes from one activity to another, and they re-enter the classroom after being out for recess, lunch, an assembly, or a special class. The better the transitions are, the better your day will go. What makes a "good" transition?  When your students make the transition quickly, quietly, and without complaint. 

I consider transitions to be so important, that I developed a system of keeping track of them during the day, and tying them directly into my classroom management plan. In the upper right hand corner of my whiteboard, I have a box that is labeled "Transitions."  The box is divided in half by a vertical line. Underneath the left hand side of the box the word "Good" is written. Underneath the right hand side of the box the word "Bad" is written. Whenever there is an in-class transition of any kind, I take note of how the class behaves. If they have made the transition quickly, quietly and without complaint, I put one check mark in the "Good" side of the box.  If the transition is loud, disruptive and contentious, I put a check mark in the "Bad" side of the box.  Any time the students are coming into the classroom in the morning, or returning from a recess period, those transitions are worth two check marks, because I feel that those are especially important transitions.  

As the day is drawing to a close, I take a look at the Transitions Box, and take note of how many check marks are in the "Good" side, and how many there are in the "Bad" side.  If the students have three times as many "Good" marks as "Bad," they have earned a 15-minute recess period to finish up the day.  If the ratio of "Good" to "Bad" is less than that, we stay inside and continue what we were doing until the dismissal bell. I also award points in the "Class vs. Mr. Harrison" box based on how many "Good" check marks they have at the end of each day. 

How does all of this tie into to better behavior on the playground?  My students know that I absolutely will not accept them coming back from recess in an agitated state.  Quite often, I remind them before dismissing them for a recess that I expect them to come back into the room peacefully, and that I expect the transition to be smooth so we can get the rest of the morning, or the afternoon, off to a really good start. Of course, there will still be times when some students come back with a problem.  I have found that the best thing to do is to allow those students time outside of the classroom to talk about their problem, and attempt to reach a solution together - without any input from me. Most of the time, this is successful. The rest of the time, I get involved at the next break and help to mediate the situation until everyone feels heard and satisfied.  

The point is this; if your students know that you expect a smooth transition when they come back in from recess, and that you will be putting check marks in the Transition Box based on their behavior, they will usually solve whatever problems they have had themselves. They will not try to drag you into every little conflict that comes up, and will re-enter the room in a peaceful and appropriate manner.  I have used this technique in first through fifth grades, and it has consistently worked all year long. Below, I have chosen some lessons that have to do with getting along, and cooperating with each other on the playground.

Playground Issues and Resolutions Lesson Plans:

Design a Playground

Students work together to design their "dream playground." Groups of students use a variety of arts and crafts materials to construct the playground.  A lesson like this could easily lead to a presentation to the principal in case your playground is in need of updating or improving.

On the Playground

This wonderful lesson deals specifically with strategies for solving conflicts that arise on the playground.  Students discuss some real-life situations that occurred on the playground, and work together to come up with workable solutions.

Decisions, Decisions

Students work in groups to come up with a playground that could be built in their community.  They use real playground equipment catalogues, play money, and graph paper to help them come up with their designs, and choices for equipment.  What a great cross-curricular lesson!

The Hungry Snake

One way that students feel a sense of pride in their school is by keeping the playground clean.  This lesson has two teams of students get into a straight line. Each line is a "hungry snake," that is looking for trash to eat.  The last person in the line holds a garbage can.  Each snake patrols the playground.  Whichever one collects the most trash is the winner!




Elementary Math Guide

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Greg Harrison