Monkey Bars For a Jail



4111 30th Ave, Astoria, NY

Neighborhood: Astoria, Queens

Whenever I took my second grade special education class to the playground, they’d make a mad dash for the swings. Though, the winners would seldom swing. They would spin in circles by twisting the chains. I’d warn them about becoming dizzy, but dizziness gave them an excuse after their turn was over to stumble into each other and see how many they could knock down. That gave them more satisfaction than ordinary swinging.

Another group would head for the slides. There was always one student who would climb to the top, then stay there, causing a traffic jamb below. Eventually the ones behind him would shove him down. The perpetrator would get back on the slide and do his non-moving act again. If I caught him, I’d banish him from the slides. But there was always a risk he’d do his version of a sit-down strike, and not come with the class when it was time to go. Sometimes, it was easier to grab his legs and help the others push him down the slide. I wasn’t taught how to do that in graduate school, but when the tough – my students – don’t get going, intervention is required to get them going again.

Then there was always one overweight student who would sit on the seesaw and yell for someone to join him. It was usually the tiniest kid who would take up his offer. They’d sit there for the whole period, wondering why they couldn’t get the seesaw to move. I’d push down the side the tiny student was on and explain the principles of weight distribution, but they’d never listen, preferring to be left in a wondering state.

A few would run to the sandbox, only to discover there was no sand. That wouldn’t stop them. They’d mimic playing in the sand. But there’s a limit to mimicking. After a while it stops being fun. Their solution was to go to the school’s garden and import dirt. But dirt is different from sand. It may contain rocks. Being a teacher makes you an expert at spotting possible weapons. It’s easier to remove the students than the weapons, so I’d banish them from the sandboxes.

The rest of the students were at the monkey bars. Instead of climbing them, they were used to play their favorite game – “Jail.” It consists of placing certain students inside the bars and trying to prevent them from escaping. I don’t know the derivation of the game, but with most of them having one parent or relative in jail, it became meaningful. The only problem was that the same students would always be the wardens and prisoners. I tried to change that, but once they took on a role, they wouldn’t swap.

I was glad when the whistle blew, and playground time was over. If only the equipment at the playground was used properly, it wouldn’t have been so difficult. But my students used them for their own purposes. That took some creativity, which was what I was trying to teach. I didn’t want to squash that.

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