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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Pitfalls and Promise of the Playground

"...opportunities for playful peer interaction can foster the development of social cognitive skills, peer acceptance, and the many social and intellectual benefits associated with acceptance. It is not surprising, then, that the playground time is valued in education as a means of fostering social interaction." (Yuill, Strieth, Roake, Aspden & Todd, 2007).

The Promise

Looking back on my own years at school, and on my years as a teacher, I can see just how much is learnt on the playground. The experiences and skills learnt on the playground are just as valuable as the lessons learnt in classrooms.

On the playground you learn about the give and take of relationships. You learn communication, empathy, turn-taking and sportsmanship skills. You learn about all the hidden, or unspoken rules that are part of the dynamics of interaction.

On the playground you interact with less structure, less routine, more self-determination than in the classroom. You learn independence, resilience....

The Pitfalls

The physical setting:
The organisation, accessibility and equipment on a playground can significantly influence a child's opportunity to be part of the interactions on the playground. This means that while a playground can be a place of social learning and acceptance, without due consideration it can be a place of exclusion and social deprivation.

Consider this playground .....

The nature of the physical setting is not just important for children with physical disabilities, it is also important for children with other disorders such as Autism (Egilson & Traustadottir, 2009; Yuill et al., 2007) . Making a playground accessible does not just mean making sure that we have pathways for wheelchair access. It means that we have considered the impact the physical environment has on the safety, social inclusion and emotional well-being of a child.

The playground participants:
Warash, Curtis, Hursh and Tucci (2008) suggest that key skills required for the playground are the ability to "listen, observe, participate, talk and problem-solve" (p441). Difficulties with any of these skills can make the playground an isolating, or even a scary, place.

And then there is the issue of misunderstandings, stereotyping, lack of acceptance and bullying.

Positive interaction on the playground doesn't just "happen" for all children. It is something that needs to be carefully planned, taught, reinforced and monitored.

Planning for Promise

This month I want to talk about some of the things we can do to help children with diverse needs experience the promise of the playground. If you have any questions, comments or resources to share, feel free to join the discussion here, on facebook or on Twitter.


Egilson, S.T. and Traustadottir, R. (2009). Participation of Students With Physical Disabilities
in the School Environment. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 63(3), 264-272

Warash, B., Curtis, R., Hursh, D. and Tucci, V. (2008). Skinner Meets Piaget on the
Reggio Playground: Practical Synthesis of Applied Behaviour Analysis and Developmentally Approrpriate Practice Orientations. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 22(4), pg. 441

Yuill, N., Strieth, S., Roake, C., Aspden, R. and Todd, B. (2007). Brief Report: Designing a Playground for Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders - Effects on Playful Peer Interactions. Journal of Autism Developmental Disorders, 37, p1192-1196.


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