The Playground–Rules Brought and Made

As I think back on my own early playground experiences and as I remember watching our children and others play together, I realize that rules show up on the playground in two ways.  There are the rules we all bring to the playground, and there are the rules that we create on the playground.

Every child shows up with some set of internal rules.  The rules may resemble something like law and order:  be nice, take turns, be respectful, share, don’t hit, don’t steal, don’t push, etc.  The rules that are brought by each child may also appear sinister:  get there first and take the best toys; get a couple of friends you can manipulate and gang up on the others; when you see things are not going your way, insist on changing the rules, etc.

None of these rules are conscious.  They are brought by each child from his/her life and what they have had demonstrated to them in family life.

There is a bit of playground magic, however.  Somewhere along the way, if given the opportunity, children begin to discover that they can make up their own rules or that they can change the rules they know to make things work better.  The freedom to make rules that work better than the old ones require time and creativity.  I remember once when only a few of us were on the playground (the teacher was doing something with the rest of the class) that we did not have enough people to choose teams and play kickball.  But we wanted to play kickball.  After a while, it occurred to us that we could just be one team with a pitcher, a kicker and three base players.  We would rotate through the positions so that everyone took a turn in each position.  We may have had more fun that day than if we had had two full teams.

Which is to say:  sometimes when things on the playground aren’t working, the freedom to redesign how we play is the greatest fun.  Watch out for that opportunity today!

Bob Patrick

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