Playground Circle Experiment

Yesterday I was at an elementary school (grades K-3). During the lunch recess period I put six chairs in a circle on the playground. Then I sat. And waited.

For about 30 seconds.

And the kids started coming to the circle. “Hey mister, what game is this?”

I explained to the kids about the talking piece, and said I would ask a question and whoever had the talking piece would answer while the rest of us listened. The talking piece would be passed around the circle and everyone would get to answer.

They easily understood the “rules of the game.”

I started with simple questions like, “What do you like to do on the weekend?” and, “what is something nice that someone has done for you recently?” From there we went a bit deeper: “What is something that worries or annoys you on the playground?” and “What is something you do to make recess fun for everyone?”

A group of six kids would work through these questions in about 8 or 10 minutes. Then they wanted to ask their own questions. Here are some of the questions the kids came up with:

“Who is your favorite hero?” to which I added, “and tell us why.”

“What is your favorite TV Show?” again, I added “and why.”

“What is your favorite toy?” (same)

The kids naturally choose low-risk questions that they have fun answering.

Each group lasted no more than 10 minutes, then I sent those kids off to play. “Go play, you need to be active at recess, I’ll be here next week.” I never had to wait for more than a minute for the chairs to fill up with a new group.

What does this use of circles accomplish? It is primarily about community building, which is where I think 80% of our circle work should be focussed. It teaches kids how to use the talking piece. It involves kids in maintaining the circle (they start enforcing the talking piece rule themselves). It demonstrates to staff who happen to be on the playground that circles can be easy, fun, and spontaneous.

I’m doing this one day per week for the next six weeks. I anticipate that we’ll start doing problem solving circles on the playground in the coming weeks, just responding to playground incidents as they arise. The more kids who participate in the “circle game” first, the easier these problem-solving circles will be; because they’ll know the rules, have some experience with the format, and have a positive association with it.


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