Playgrounds Are Again Ringing with Laughter in Many Parts of the Country

“Is that your real face?”

The awkward, but adorable, question stopped made you smile.
Substitute teaching a full day for the first time since the arrival of the pandemic more than six months ago, you found yourself in a Montessori classroom of preschoolers and kindergarteners. Starting this year just as your oldest daughter started the public school system more than 20 years ago seems fitting. In fact, you have mused to yourself that retracing the footsteps of your daughters might be a good way to reenter these strange new days in the classroom.

Masked 90% of the time, students and teachers alike approach the beginning of the 2020 school year with a new level of excitement. After having the previous year cut short because of Covid 19, students of all age were anxious to return. That anxiousness, of course, came in many forms. The typical excitement about the first day of school was in the air, but there was also a different level of anxiousness around the new safety and health protocols and guidelines.

The walk to the classroom took longer than normal. Greeted by teachers you had known for years, you lingered even longer at the door of the teacher who also attends church with you. In those minutes when you should have already been in the classroom preparing for the day, it seemed more important and needed to catch up. The two of you had seven months worth of early Sunday morning conversations that in normal times you would have had as your family sat one row pew behind her family in church. On those typical Sundays both of your families arrived early and you could ask questions and share news about the combined five children in your families. This conversation in the hallway was one step toward normalcy.

About That Face

When you finally ended that conversation and made your way to the classroom at the end of the hall you were fortunately greeted by another familiar face in the paraprofessional who would be assisting in the classroom you were teaching in this morning. After another smiled greeting to this fellow educator, not even the mask could hide your anxiousness. You were both confident that the morning would go well, but you quickly asked details about the masks, the cleaning protocols, and the rules about social distancing. The line time in the morning, of course, was no longer a real line, with the children instead sitting on their assigned dots around the room. And in a Montessori classroom where friends would typically be allowed to select their own work space, these youngest learners were now required to stay in their assigned spaces.

It was at the playground when things finally returned to normal. Allowed to take their masks off and place them in the class color pink lanyards, the children were now allowed to climb on the playground equipment and run with reckless abandon through the wood chips. The morning recess had them focused on the wings and the slides, but the afternoon recess was simply running and playing in an empty field just west of the classroom door. This is when one little girl finally caught a glimpse of your unmasked face and asked the adorable question, “Is that your real face?”

Many things are different in the hallways of schools, but the innocence and bluntness of children and their questions remains.

Both outdoor and commercial indoor playground equipment is now being sanitized more carefully as schools across the nation welcome children back. Indoor soft play equipment that cannot be easily sanitized remain put away, but most outdoor and commercial indoor playground equipment has returned to its normal use. Limited to only one classroom at a time, the commercial indoor playground equipment and its outdoor counterparts are again rising with laughter.

Many studies have shown that physically active children and adolescents are more physically active throughout their lifespan than their inactive counterparts. For this reason, schools and daycares across the country focus on providing engaging outdoor and commercial indoor playground equipment. The American Heart Association recommends that children over the age of two engage in at least one hour a day of moderate physical activity and the mask break time on the playground provides a portion of this opportunity.

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