The transition between elementary school and middle school marks a time of great change. With middle school comes harder coursework, new social pressures and development in mind and body. Arguably, recess or preferred activity time (PAT) is just as important to middle school students as it is to those in elementary school. Recess provides unstructured play time and brings the same benefits to preteens and teens as it does to younger children. Those benefits include social engagement, physical movement, cognitive development and, of course, a reduction in anxiety and stress.
But what does play look like in middle school and how can we support youth who still benefit from play but may have outgrown the playground? Here are two of our favorite ideas that give tweens and teens the break they need and allow them to play at their developmental level:
Outdoor Fitness Courses: Fitness courses bring together different physical obstacles that can be used by an individual or by a team. When you think of a fitness course, think of sequenced activities similar to those featured in shows like American Ninja Warrior. Products like the Elevate Fitness Course by BCI Burke offers multiple ways to use the equipment so that users can start at their current fitness level and increase the physical intensity over time. With different obstacles presenting different challenges, users are sure to engage both their upper and lower body. In addition to improving strength and agility, there are opportunities to connect socially by competing with others in timed trials.
Gaga Ball Pits: Gaga Ball is a game that is increasing in popularity all over the nation. It is kinder, gentler form of dodge ball that can be played by almost anyone. The equipment needed to play is minimal and includes a soft playground ball, an octagonal or circular pit and eager participants. The goal of the game is to be the last person standing by dodging, running and jumping around the ball. The Gaga ball pit by BCI Burke is made from durable plastic panels and gives schools the opportunity to customize one of those panels with their name and mascot. The pit can be installed permanently if its location is set or non-permanently for easy re-positioning.
At All Recreation, we are excited about new options to extend unstructured play time to kids during their middle school years. We are eager to partner with BCI Burke to bring those ideas to schools in our area and show our youth that play does not need to stop, it may just need a bit of re-imagination and creativity. As one of our favorite quotes from George Bernard Shaw reads, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing”.