By Dr. Melinda BossenmeyerFive Tips to Improving your Playground

I watched a less popular girl, Allison, walk up to a group of four girls who were playing a game of four-square. As she approached and asked, “Can I play?” she was quickly rebuffed. “The game is closed,” Janey, the ring leader, announced.

Given the school is a Peaceful Playgrounds’ school, I was surprised at the response because of the “You can’t say, ‘You can’t play’” mantra. Allison, whose disappointment was obvious, turned to play another game. Fortunately, the playground was filled with alternate game choices and two other four-square courts. Allison selected one of those courts and soon was happily involved in another four-square game. This time she didn’t ask, but rather waited in line by the letter D.

Permission: is it a good idea?

It was an interesting observation for a number of reasons.  I began to dissect what happened and why.  In the first situation, Allison asked for permission to play.  The question, “Can I play?”, allowed Janey the opportunity to respond and in fact, reject the request.

In the second situation, Allison simply stood in line and waited her turn.  No one challenged her right to play.   She didn’t ask permission but rather followed the rules of the playground and when her turn came she merely stepped onto the court.  No one challenged her right to do so.

Entwined within the actions of young children was a lesson.  When you act in accordance with the school rules (wait in line and go in when appropriate), that behavior makes rejection less likely.

Exclusion is not always playground bullying

I’ve been working on an online bullying prevention course for school staffs, which meets state requirements for staff training.  This reminded me of what I’ve been writing about, the ways in which girls bully.  Girls typically get involved with indirect types of bullying, for example, nasty staring, spreading rumors, manipulating friendships, and excluding peers.  The four girls who turned Allison away all participated in Janey’s decree of “You can’t play.”  However, it wasn’t bullying as typically described, because there was no mention of a power differential.  The intent to hurt was questionable.  Although it didn’t meet the classic criteria for bullying, the activity was still hurtful, as evidenced by Allison’s reaction.  Read below to find out how this situation might be addressed in a more “kid friendly manner.”

1. Establish playground, rules, procedures and high expectations.

Why didn’t Allison remind them of the school rule, “You can’t say, ‘You can’t play’”?  I’m not sure.  If that had been the only four-square court, perhaps she would have.  This illustrates the importance of painting multiple markings of the same court.  When we gathered information about children’s play choices, we observed that children often picked a less preferred game rather than wait in line on a Peaceful Playground.  This scenario is likely played out daily on numerous times on playgrounds all across America.  Below are a few key points that address this situation, relating to some of the philosophies and procedures in the Peaceful Playgrounds Program.  The statements below explain some of the rules and procedures and the philosophy behind them.

Peaceful Playgrounds Posters2. “You can’t say, You can’t play.”

Whether or not a child invokes this rule, it illustrates the notion that all kids get to play all games.  This simple rule makes a big difference in the emotional culture of the playground.  Exclusion is something that is hurtful and sometimes crosses over into a form of bullying, especially in girls.


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