By Adaeze Atueyi-Ojukwu
Back in the 1970s, primary school for Grace Eromosele, now a mother of two, was fun. She enjoyed her classroom work, and even more during ‘recess’ because they had a large field where numerous activities including jumping, running, skipping were held.
A playground, play park, or play area is a place with a specific design for children to play. It may be indoors. But typical modern playgrounds often have recreational equipment such as the seesaw, merry-go-round, swing set, slide, jungle gym, chin-up bars, sandbox, spring rider, monkey bars, overhead ladder, trapeze rings, playhouses, and mazes, many of which help children develop physical coordination, strength, and flexibility, as well as providing recreation and enjoyment. Common in modern playgrounds are play structures that link many different pieces of equipment.
Professionals recognise that the social skills that children develop on the playground become lifelong skill sets that are carried forward into their adulthood. Independent researches conclude that playgrounds are among the most important environments for children outside the home.
There is a general consensus that physical activity reduces the risk of psychological problems in children and fosters their self-esteem. Evidence suggests that children who participate in physical activity improve their self-esteem. Moreover, Experts argue that the quality of a child’s exercise experience can affect his or her self-esteem.
However, in recent times, fields have gradually disappeared from most schools making it difficult for students to develop their talents in running, jumping and other recreational activities. Though schools owners try to put up small playgrounds where they install seesaw, merry-go-round, swing set, slide, jungle gym, chin-up bars, sandbox, spring rider, monkey bars, overhead ladder, trapeze rings, playhouses, and mazes, experts say these are not enough to develop the psychomotor aspect of the child.
Racheal Uba, an educationist says the gradual extinction of playfields could be responsible for our lacklustre performance in sports, particularly athletics as it hampers discovery of young talents. “Most of the stars we had in those days were representatives in one sporting activity or the other from their primary till their universities. Nowadays, some schools don’t even organise inter-house sports anymore, how would these children develop their talents? Education is a multi-task phenomenon. It does not only involve the development of the brain and mind but also that of the body. Playing outside is not just about letting off steam but it also helps children develop physical strength, coordination, balance and provides opportunity for them to learn and play. Regrettably, Nigerian children seem to have been robbed of this opportunity,” she says.
Favour Primary School, Bariga, Lagos is one of such schools without fields and playground. The school is enclosed in a two-block of two-storey building each with barely enough space as playground in-between the blocks. The proprietress of the school, who pleaded anonymity, however, agreed that extra-curricular activities are as important as mathematics or English language, and should be treated as a subject in schools.
“It is necessary that every growing child have access to these activities. It is a normal thing for schools to have football field and spaces for other games. It helps the kids to sit down and concentrate. Play is like a subject on its own. It is an integral part of the child’s learning.”
Mr. Moses Ajibade, the games master of the school, says that to develop the psychomotor aspect of his students, he had to personally contact the local government that has a field so that the students could use it on a regular basis. “When I came into the school, I noticed the school didn’t have a field and as a physical and health educationist who knows the importance of it, I had to make efforts to provide one for the students and that is where we also have our inter-house sports. I have discovered in my years of training these students that it helps their social lives, they learn to communicate, share and collaborate with each other. I would advise that sport centres be created for students because they are of immense benefit,” Ajibade stated.
Scholand Group of Schools, Iju, Lagos, established over ten years ago is another example of a school with inadequate playground and recreational facilities. In fact, the reporter noticed that the entire area is built like a residential quarters. Efforts to speak with the proprietor proved abortive. But a member of staff confessed that the students have little or no time for recreational activities, noting that despite the fact that they encourage students to put on sports wear on Fridays, the school has not held any inter-house sports since inception.
One wonders why parents still take their children and wards to a school that cannot give an all round development to a child. Selewa Oyebode, a mother of a pupil in Scholand has a reason. She had to take her child to the school because it is closer home. “Sometimes, I have to leave my shop late and before then, my daughter’s school would have closed. Her school is very close to the house and so she can easily walk home after school,” she said.
Unlike Oyebode, Emeka Ezeonu would not compromise that aspect of his child’s education. “I believe that every child should be helped to develop properly. I am a lover of sports and I encourage my son to partake in his school’s inter-house sports, ” he said.
Ifeoluwa Akinde, a Psychologist is of the opinion that play and playgrounds in schools serve as instruments for proper development of children and that any child deprived of the opportunity, would likely lack proper development.
“Education involves the whole child and include concerns for the child’s physical, cognitive and socio-emotional development. Each child follows a unique developmental pattern and young children learn best through firsthand experiences with people and materials. Play is extremely important in the child’s total development, especially at the critical age of infancy/early childhood (1-6years).
“During middle and late childhood, children’s motor skills become much smoother and more coordinated. As children move through the elementary school years they gain greater control of their bodies and can remain attentive for longer periods of time. However, elementary school children are far from possessing physical maturity, so they need to be active, hence, the playground is necessary. Elementary school children become more fatigued by long periods of sitting than by jumping or bicycling. Physical action such as batting a ball, skipping rope, or balancing on a beam is essential for these children to redefine their developing skills. An important principle of practice for elementary school children, therefore, is that they should be engaged in active, rather than passive activities, which usually take place more on the playground.”
Continuing, Akinde said a child deprived of a playground might not be able to develop proper social interaction skills, which are very essential much later in life.
“To allow a child develop to maximum capacity, he or she must be allowed freedom to construct freely from interaction. Most of these interactions take place during play, especially on the playground. Anyone deprived of play as a child may later become rigid, shy and may not be able to relate properly with peers, In fact, some plays which take place at the playground entail competitions, which develop the child coping skills for greater challenges in life
“Children spend about 10,000 hours in school as members of a small society in which there are tasks to be accomplished and people to be socialised by and rules that define and limit behaviour. Therefore, a proper school setting school must be given to enhance all their abilities,” she said
Akinde also pointed out that there are two types of school settings/education approach that is recommended and appropriate for children, especially at early childhood (2-6). These are the child-centred kindergarten and Montessori approach.
“In the child centred kindergarten, instruction is organised around the child’s needs, interests, and learning styles. The process of learning rather than what is learned is emphasized. Exploring, experimenting, discovering and trying out are all words that best describe excellent kindergarten programmes where children are allowed varieties of play types to develop their cognitive abilities; the metal activities involved in acquiring and processing information related to thinking, intelligence and memory. In the Montessori approach, children are given considerable freedom and spontaneity in choosing activities. The schools setting makes sure the child has so many varieties of plays and activities to choose from. All this spontaneity in choosing of activities to play with develops the child cognitive abilities,” she explained.
She said it was important to know the developmental stages of children as it helps in the use of developmentally appropriate practices (based on knowledge of the typical development of children within an age span and the uniqueness of the child).
“In one study, the children who attended developmentally appropriate school displayed more appropriate classroom behavior and had better conduct records and better work and study habit than did the children who attended developmentally inappropriate schools.”
Dr. Celine Njoku, PRO, Counseling Association of Nigeria, is of the opinion that most of the schools that are springing up these days are guilty of not creating fields and playground for their students. “People use their residential houses and halls which do not have playgrounds. Schools are inside people’s sitting room, residential houses and garages. Practices like these do not augur well for those children at all,” she said
She further stated that education tries to achieve three things in the life of any child and anyone deprived of any of the three is imbalanced and deficient.
“In education, there are three domains-cognitive, psychomotor and assertive domain. Cognitive are those things that are taught in the classroom, and the teachers examine them through test. Another thing education tries to achieve is assertive domain, which comes from the heart, such as admiration, interaction, displays of leadership quality, mimicking, drama and all.
“Psychomotor is also another thing education tries to achieve in a child. This aspect involves them in healthy competition and inter-house sports. You find out that this aspect of education is lacking in some children; majority of these children dwell on the cognitive level, reasoning, knowing and understanding only the mathematics, and cramming the English words they are taught in school. Any child who comes out of school without having this psychomotor experience has a biased education; one sided, faulty and deficient; their education is imbalance. We need to have playgrounds and field where these children can run round during break period; and it helps them develop their memory, because when a child runs round, he or she reasons and understands better. I am advocating that there should be criteria for setting up schools,” she asserted.
Mr. Taiwo Adeniyi, a clinical psychologist, agreed that playground in schools help children to develop their social skills, imagination and creativity. “Outside play is often open-ended and children need to be creative about what and how games are played. It also develops their thinking and problem-solving skills, as children assess risks and tackle new challenges they learn about having a go, persistence and perseverance and the success those attributes can bring.
“Sense of self- as they master new skills and play with other children they improve their competence and confidence in their own physical and social abilities. Sense of connection to place, to peers and to their local community and environment, self-care skills – managing physical and social challenges helps children to learn about keeping themselves safe,” he said
Efforts to speak to any Lagos state official on education as to why schools without playground receive approval from the government proved abortive.