Life is a Lower School Playground

So one of my favorite things to do during the school day is to get outside and watch our kids interact with each other on the lower school playground. Actually, if I really think about it, it’s probably my most favorite thing. Throughout my career it has always been such a joyful and fascinating experience for me to stand back and watch life unfold so authentically for kids during these relatively short bursts of time, as they struggle to learn about life and their place in it. You see, for the most part, kids learn all about academics inside the classroom, but they learn all about life outside on the playground, and if you really stop to think about it, everything that we encounter throughout our lives can be found at any particular moment out at any given recess time.

Over the years I’ve seen broken hearts and broken bones, first crushes and first kisses, new friendships and fist fights, and everything in between. The learning that happens out on a lower school playground is truly profound, and it’s here where these daily experiences shape the lives of our kids. Out on the playground kids learn to take risks and to take chances, sometimes winning and sometimes failing but always learning. Kids learn about rejection and what it feels like to be excluded, and they learn about how to make friends and the joy that comes along with being included. They learn to use their imagination and they try out different approaches to getting what they want, and they learn all about the power of language and how to use words to encourage or to hurt…it’s all happening out on the playground each and every day. For me, watching when they don’t know I’m watching, it is sad and joyful and heartbreaking and heartwarming and exhilarating but always, always beautiful. There is laughing and crying and playing and so many ups and downs it’s hard to keep up with it all honestly, but one thing is for sure…every day when kids line up to go back in they are always changed, and inevitably they have learned a little bit more about themselves and about how to navigate this thing called life.

I remember many of my own lower school playground experiences very well even now, just like you do I bet. The courage that it took for me as a 5th grader to ask that girl to be my girlfriend, and the crushing embarrassment that I felt when she eventually liked a different boy and broke up with me in front of everyone. I remember my first fight when I tried to stand up for one of my friends in 4th grade, and I remember losing a friend in 3rd grade because I tried to be cool in front of some older kids. I remember being afraid of an older bully, and doing what he wanted for a long time, until I finally learned to stand up for myself, and I remember learning that being nice and treating people with kindness was the best way to make friends, even though it took me a while to figure that out. It’s funny to think that all of those experiences have shaped who I am today, and have given me the skills to be a successful adult. The way I see it, life is a lower school playground, and everything that you need to learn or have learned most likely happened out there between the swings and slides and monkey bars. I love watching kids out at recess time…it burns so bright…it is much of life’s important experiences and learning distilled down into one short, twenty or thirty minute blast.

I think it would be a powerful and moving documentary or screen-play for someone to film or write, to follow a student or a group of students navigating and living through a year or recesses…think of the messages and learning that could be shared and taken from all that a child encounters on a lower school playground throughout a school year. Luckily, as educators, we get to watch and see the movie play out from day to day in our own school, and I get to hear the sounds of kids learning played out operatically each and every day, performed in the key of life…so good. Anyway, with all that in mind, take a trip out to the playground this week and see what I mean…even if you’re not a lower school teacher. It will bring you back and make you smile…life is a lower school playground and it’s a beautiful thing…open up your eyes and take it all in, you’ll be happy that you did. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…

Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do

– Mark Twain


Ted Talks – (Time to re-visit these older talks)

5 Dangerous Things 

Why Do We Play

Tales of Creativity and Play


Related Articles –

Let Your Kids Play!

Lessons from the Playground

Kids Need Playgrounds


Fun Videos –

Starry, Starry Night

A Lesson in Courage

One thought on “Life is a Lower School Playground”

  1. I’m officially binge reading through your articles Dan! I appreciate your perspective to some of the daily occurrences I’ve often taken for granted. The playground is one I’ve also paid attention to. My classroom the last few years was right beside the lower school playground and I had a birds eye view of what was happening, along with the screams and laughter that go with it. Every kid finds their own space on the playground and their version of ‘play’ is unique. Thanks for sharing Dan!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *