(Refrain) Put the Kids in Charge

During recess, I play with my kids. They’re almost universally nice children. Most of them are very chill, and just in any game to have a good time. There are a couple of boys who take it too seriously, and cause problems when the course of the game doesn’t fit how they see it.

It started getting bad enough — and circling around to too many kids — that I had to talk to my class about it. I never ever want to do that. I don’t want to dictate recess. First, I don’t want the responsibility of trying to do something that makes everyone happy. It never happens the way you want. Also, pushing an agenda means convincing some kids to go against what they want in favor of the greater good. No thank you.

This is the first instance I put them in charge in this story. Our current group game had gotten too dangerous, I told them. If they couldn’t guarantee that no one would get knocked down, and that no one would get mad and demand my judgement, then they were going to have to come up with a solution.

The next recess, my students were playing an outside version of the classroom game, “Silent Speedball.” I love that game in the classroom, and decided to join them. They had decided as a group that instead of playing a game that involved people getting knocked down, this was a better option. I totally agreed, and what I love most is that I never would have thought of this.

We had fun playing for a while, except that in just about every game, we still had some cries that things weren’t fair. This person threw the ball too hard. Everyone’s saying that I’m out, but I’m not. They won’t stop yelling at me to throw the ball. Initially, I stepped in to be the ref. I pointed out that one of the rules was that arguing with a ref was grounds for being out (this is, by the way a terrible rule in life, but keeps things moving in a fast paced game…), but it didn’t matter. A couple of kids kept arguing with me each time we played. This game was safer, but I was still miserable at recess. And then I remembered to put it back in their hands.

It’s their recess, I’m just playing in it, so I said, “Who wants to be ref? I’d rather play.” Hands went up. I picked someone who the whole class respected as fair, and we played. It took a couple of rounds for the power balance to shift, but it worked. There’s way less arguing with the ref now, and the kids take turns to make sure the game runs smoothly. We had one boy who still wouldn’t recognize any authority but me and himself. I did my best to support the judge without stepping in. I’d play the game too, and when I got out, I sat down immediately. The next time he argued, I took him aside and said, “Hey, I didn’t like getting out either, but that’s the game. Don’t worry, these rounds go quick, we’ll be back in again soon.”

And since that moment, it’s gone very smoothly, putting the control in the hands of the kids. They’ve made some improvements to the rules in the interest of fairness and better game play. I’m impressed. They feel more ownership, the game is more fun, and I don’t have to be the bad guy, or dance around to entertain them at their recess. Everyone wins this game!

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