chapter  7
Observing Children on a School Playground: The Pedagogics of Child-watching
ByStephen J. Smith
Pages 19

The playground defines an educational site beyond the margins of the prescribed, enacted and assessed, school curriculum. It is where children’s experiences are not as easily planned, objectivized and compartmentalized as in the classroom, yet they are no less educative for that. Here children create their own subject matter through the kinds of activity they play, define their own ways of learning through their associations with other children, and display learned competence through demonstrable physical movements. They live a curriculum which, though it appears inchoate, haphazard, unpredictable and unstable in comparison with the adult-controlled classroom curriculum, is educationally significant, not only because it observes that which truly matters to children, but also because this child-centered subject matter allows us to reconceptualize the curriculum planned for children. Indeed, while curriculum strategists suggest looking to playground activities and incidents for evidence of children’s ‘physical’, ‘emotional’ and ‘social’ developments (e.g., British Columbia Ministry of Education, 1991), one could argue that such developments occur most meaningfully in playground interactions. For instance, ‘physical development’ is usually framed according to games and sports, dances and gymnastic forms that can be taught in skillsequenced physical education programs. But the range of ‘physical’ activities observed on a playground shows qualities of movement, rhythm and bodily control that are not so narrowly contained; furthermore, a close examination of these activities reveals a learning progression more closely tied to social and emotional well-being than to performative stages of physical skill development. At the very least, observing children on a school playground can enhance curriculum design by broadening the scope and elaborating the sequence of physical education curricula, thus fulfilling a promise made by early advocates of ‘movement education’ (cf. British Ministry of Education, 1952).