Have you ever observed your students while at recess? I mean really taken the time to walk around and soak in all the different areas of the playground to get a feel for how students are taking advantage of their precious free time. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post called, Recess: Lessons from the Playground, “From a teacher’s perspective, recess duty is an opportunity to watch students grow physically, emotionally, and socially, in an unstructured environment. It’s a time when we put the plan book away and allow PLAY to provide the lesson.”
Kids are constantly adapting rules, making teams, problem solving, exploring, and creating new games and activities. In my opinion, students learn valuable skills in this type of unstructured, self-guided environment.
How can I take advantage of this powerful learning tool as a physical education teacher?
Within my curriculum, I set aside days where students have the opportunity to explore and create. I’ll set up seven stations, each with its own set of equipment. I’ll divide the class into small groups, then send each group to one of the stations. For three minutes per rotation, students work collaboratively to develop an activity using the given equipment.
On many occasions, groups will come up with the obvious ideas for games. For example, if a station has a pile of hoops, students will individually spin the hoop on various body parts. This is fine, since they are using the hoop, they are moving, and most likely, their wheels are turning, thinking of something else to try. Other groups may dig deeper into their cognition and build an elaborate hula hoop fortress with an accompanying story, while other students use the hoops as stepping stones to cross a toxic river.
The Magic of Floor Ball
Recently, as one of the exploration stations, I spread out three cones in a row, each connected with jump ropes. Along the wall I placed a gator skin ball, three foam paddles, and a foam tennis ball. I figured each group would use the paddles and the foam tennis ball to volley over the net. To my surprise, the very first group developed what they called Floor Ball in just three minutes. The rules were so simple. The object of the game was to strike the ball under the rope, past the opposing player to receive a point. Brilliant!
The next group must have been intrigued by the first group, as they decided to build on the rules. In doing so, they added the “two touch” rule. A player could block the ball (one touch) then strike it (second touch) under the net. They also added a special rule for games of two players versus one. If playing as a single player, you can strike the ball to the left or the right of the center cone. Teams of two had to stand side by side and could only strike the ball through their side of the center cone. What a great way to balance the two player advantage! Again, genius!
Floor ball continued to evolve throughout the class, with each group devising their own set of unique rules.
Scoop Shoes – another 1st grade creation enjoyed by all our students.
Another exploration station consisted of a three plastic scoops, three yarn balls, a plastic pool, and several hula hoops. Again, in only three minutes, a group of 1st grade students created Scoop Shoes. Based on horse shoes, the three students set up their hoops in a triangle. Each player stood behind their own hoop. One player at a time would underhand toss the yarn ball with the scoop to the hoop to their right. Two points are scored when a ball lands inside the hula hoop and one point is scored when the ball stops less than a scoops length away from the hoop. Beautiful! Yet another student-created game I can share with the rest of my students!
So next time you are on the playground, walk around and watch the creative, young minds at work. You’ll be sure to witness the pervasive benefits unstructured play provides for children, and the amazing value it will add to your curriculum.
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