Recreating Recess: Back to the basics at the playground

This past summer, I went home to work at a summer camp. Like most summer jobs, the work was a nice break from university life and it was fun being able to do something that was active as well as engaging. As part of the job, I spent a lot of time at playgrounds and open green areas so the kids could play around to their hearts desire.

Then one day, one of the kids asked if I could do the monkey bars with them. The monkey bars, for those who don't know, are usually a consecutive set of hanging metal bars where the goal is to swing your body and arms as you reach for the next bar until you arrive at the endpoint which is normally a platform or the ground.

To be fair, I had not done the monkey bars since I was in elementary school, so I was unsure whether a runner's body could still finish a set of bars. However, as those who work with children know, once a group of kids start chanting your name while managing to also challenge your self-worth as an individual, there is really no backing down.

As I started swinging from bar to bar, I began to realize the benefits of playgrounds in another perspective. When you think about the concept of a playground, it is essentially an environment that facilitates activity. The typical playground will have a swing set, a slide and an area that features climbing or hanging activities such as the monkey bars.

Still, the idea of playing on a playground is foreign to most adults who view playgrounds as relics of the past. Yet are we really too old to be playing on playgrounds? My experience this past summer did not hurt anyone nor did it break any of the equipment at the park.

If anything, my experience with the monkey bars — I did finish them if you were wondering — helped to show the kids the enjoyment of physical activity in a lighthearted and interesting way. Personally, I do not see any issue with adolescents or young adults playing on playgrounds if they intend to use the space in a respectful manner.

In fact, I even saw an elderly man playing on the swings with his grandchildren not too long ago. It created a positive experience that would not have happened if he had chose to sit and watch the children from a bench instead.

This is why this recess is about returning to the playgrounds. Whatever you choose to do at the playground is up to you, as long as it is respectful of the space and the people who may be there already using it, but here are a few options to try out.

The first option is to view the playground as an outdoor gym. Most playgrounds will have climbing equipment so you can easily perform an upper-body workout doing pull-ups on the monkey bars or running up the stairs to the slide before sliding down to get in some cardio. The advantages that a playground has over a regular gym is that you are outside, it's free and often you will be the only one at the playground when you go.

The second option for using the playground is bringing other people with you. If you can get a large group of people together, you can play many playground classics such as lava monster, tag or hide-and-seek. As childish as these games may be, under the right environment they can still be as fun as they were when you were younger. For dog owners, a playground is also a great area to get both you and your pet to exercise.

The last option is to treat the playground as an escape. As defined previously, recess is a break from work, school or any other task requiring focused attention in favour of spending time mindlessly engaged in a task. One activity worth trying then is the swing set because the rhythm of swinging back and forth can be relaxing.

If for whatever reason you cannot use your local playground, then still go because most will have an open green space attached and it is there can you get your workout in, play with friends or pets or just watch the clouds go by.

The idea is that playgrounds are places of positive experiences and places that are meant to be used by everyone, regardless of their age.