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No more rowdy recess

The scene Wednesday afternoon at East Grand Forks' South Point Elementary was rowdy, loud and boisterous -- in many ways, the same that recess has always been.

Fifth-graders at South Point Elementary School in East Grand Forks play an organized flying disc game during recess Wednesday. The school has switched to a more structured recess for safety reasons and to increase participation. Herald photo by John Stennes.

The scene Wednesday afternoon at East Grand Forks' South Point Elementary was rowdy, loud and boisterous -- in many ways, the same that recess has always been.

But a closer look at the playground showed a different scene: kids playing together, politely taking turns and playing games that might seem unusually structured for something as chaotic as recess.

That's because the school modified recess about a month ago, a move that Principal Suraya Driscoll said was to teach kids lessons while still having fun.

Less trouble

The playground was getting a little too rowdy, Driscoll said. At this time last year, there were 52 referrals to the principal's office just from recess incidents.


"We just didn't like what we were seeing, and it was the same kids engaged in the same things and the same kids getting hurt," she said. "It was time for something different."

Driscoll did research on what the school could do, and found the book "6 Steps to a Trouble-Free Playground." The book's plan, with the principles of responsibility, intrinsic motivation and inclusion, seemed like a good start.

Faculty began implementing the plan at the end of September. This new take on recess puts the focus of behavior on the students -- each day, the kids self-evaluate if they were acceptable, unacceptable or outstanding.

That teaches problem-solving and has a better impact on their behavior, Driscoll said. "Kids prefer that to being punished and threatened. It comes from within and they figure it out."

The plan has worked because staff members, school district officials and parents have embraced the positive impact of the changes. Referrals to the principal's office show just how much has changed -- only four students have been sent to Driscoll for misbehaving on the playground.

"The No. 1 thing, too, was changing recess from a free-for-all to a place that's fun and enjoyable," she said.

Student choice

It might seem strange to take the chaotic idea of recess and make it into a structured activity, but Driscoll said parents have handled the change well when they realized their kids would still have options.


The book's plan features a wide variety of games, and some simply new versions of familiar playground games like kickball. Teachers picked 17 games to get started, and students can choose what they want to play.

The children are encouraged to switch it up and play different games each day. "There's a lot of freedom and a lot of choices," she said. "It's just they have to make a choice."

No fifth-graders were upset -- when asked if they liked the new method, the group let out an enthusiastic "yeah!"

Alexis Gordon said the changes have even made recess a safer time. "We used to play this bumper game on the slide, and everybody would just get tackled," she said. "Since I'm so little, I would end up on the bottom, and I would get hurt."

Gordon liked the new three-on-three soccer game because regular soccer has too much running. Kayla Nelson disagreed -- she plays soccer and likes the regular version better -- but she admitted the new version works out better on the playground.

Dallas Keplin said his favorite new game is double partner tag. "You have two wristbands and put it on each other and you gotta run," he explained.

Driscoll was quick to point out today's students aren't any worse or better during recess than in the past. "I think we've always been aware of the playground being an issue," she said. "It's just making the change happen that's critical."

Leaving large groups of kids alone during an unstructured recess is "setting them up to fail," she said, because they need choices. "I'm not saying they're going to be 100 percent every time, but there's a higher ratio for success if they're given choices."


Johnson covers local K-12 education. Reach him at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to rjohnson@gfherald.com .

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