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The Improvement Of The School Ground


The city schools are now probably acquiring twice as much ground for playgrounds as they were ten years ago. In congested sections these often cost forty or fifty thousand dollars an acre. In the country, on the other hand, although a school playground could usually be secured for fifty or a hundred dollars an acre, and the farming sections are prosperous, there has been little improvement. I am writing this from a prosperous section of southern Michigan. Land could be purchased for less than a hundred dollars an acre for nearly every rural school in this county, yet there is not one that has an acre of ground. I pass frequently through nearly every state in the Union, and I question if one per cent of our rural schools have grounds level and large enough for baseball. In the school that I attended we always had to play in the road or surreptitiously in a neighboring field. I see country boys playing ball games of some kind in this way wherever I go. Not infrequently the school is at the edge of a wood or by the side of a gully or on the edge of a hill or swamp, so that no game requiring a good-sized level space can be played. Yet the needs of the rural school are simple. It requires, for the games that the children are accustomed to play, two or three acres of level turf and perhaps an acre more for gardening. If the school is also to furnish a baseball diamond and picnic grove to the neighborhood, as it should do in most cases, it should have not less than five acres of ground, and the consolidated school should have at least ten.

There are evidences of a new interest, however, in many quarters. The school authorities of Virginia now require that the plans for new buildings and grounds be submitted to them before the contracts may be let. It is said that they seldom give their approval to a school ground of less than three acres.

The state of Pennsylvania makes the same requirement, and the code provides that hereafter " No school building shall be built without a proper playground being provided therefor." An acre of ground and more, if possible, should be set aside for school purposes (rural schools).

The educational laws of North Dakota provide : " The School Board of any school district may take in the corporate name thereof any real property not less than two acres, nor exceeding five acres in area chosen as a site for a school house, as provided in this chapter (265)."

These requirements have become a part of the law during the last two years, and there are doubtless other states that have made similar provisions. It seems likely that some-thing of the kind may soon become epidemic, as such provisions are largely copied from one state to the other. The sentiment for rural play is in the air of the agricultural colleges ; it can be felt at every great educational meeting. It is one of the themes at most rural-life conferences and summer Chautauquas. Just those conditions now prevail which are likely to lead to a rapid spread of the idea.

There is a strong sentiment for the consolidation of rural schools throughout the country, and a number of states are giving state aid to such schools. Their advantages over the one-room school of half a dozen pupils are obvious, and their rapid extension seems certain; however, there are not more than two or three per cent of the country children in such schools at the present time, and it will be many years before they become general. It is also a question whether this is always desirable. Certainly the present generation of country children are going to be educated, for the most part, in one-room schools, and no far-off possibility of change should prevent the school boards from purchasing enough ground to conduct a modern school. The new ground will not cost much to improve, and it can be sold back when the school is abandoned for as much or more than it cost. If the present increase in farm values should continue, it would prove a good ten-percent investment of school funds. The games and equipment here considered will be almost equally suitable for the one-room school, the consolidated school, and the village school.


It is generally best that the school yard should be fenced. The fence serves to keep out the cows ; it makes the discipline easier and the yard a place by itself a sort of institution ; it allows the better protection of the apparatus, if there is any ; and it tends toward the creation of loyalties. So far as country school yards have been fenced in the past, they have usually been surrounded by a board fence with a cap board at the top. Such a fence serves as a good grand stand from which to watch the activities of the yard. It is a serviceable fence, but it is relatively expensive and is soon destroyed by the pressure of the wind or the children against its broad surfaces. The playtime is so short at best at the country school that the children should have more active exercise than watching others play, and a grand stand is not a great advantage. A good school fence is an evergreen hedge of privet or cedar. This is cheap, tight, and if not beautiful at least not ugly, and the green does not come off. It is a good wind-break in cold, blustery weather, and is the hardest fence in the world to climb. It will have to be reinforced at first by a low wire fence to keep the children from running over it and trampling it down. A woven-wire fence that is covered with morning glory, moon vine, kudzu, scarlet runner, thunbergia, honeysuckle, clematis, Virginia creeper, or rambler roses will be more beautiful than any other fence and also cheaper.


Trees should be set out around the grounds, not more than three feet from the fence, so as to give a border of shade and leave the center open for play. Most trees should be from twenty-five to forty feet apart when they mature, as otherwise there will not be room for the development of the top. But it is often wise to place between the trees of a slow-growing variety, like sugar maples, a second series of rapid-growing trees, like soft maples, basswoods, or cottonwoods. These may be cut out as the other trees develop. The maple and the basswood both develop very dense tops and furnish abundant shade. The basswood grows rapidly and is very fragrant when it blossoms in the spring, and it also attracts large numbers of bees. The walnut has a graceful top and furnishes an opportunity for a nutting festival in the fall. The hickory also gives good shade, turns to a beautiful yellow in the autumn, and bears nuts that will be appreciated by the children. The Lombardy poplar is a beautiful tree that grows tall even in the open country and throws its shade a long way. If Lombardies are planted, they should not be more than eight or ten feet apart. If the ground is three acres or more in size, it would be well to have in connection with it a small picnic grove that can be used by the community for neighbor-hood and social gatherings. This should be kept open and the trees well trimmed.

In the Northwest and parts of the West, where the country is subject to blizzards and heavy winds, it would be well to plant several rows of trees around two or three sides of the yard for protection against the wind and snow. School grounds should not offer places of seclusion or concealment, and shrubbery in general is to be avoided, for both moral and disciplinary reasons.

( Originally Published 1914 )

Play And Recreation:
Play In The Home And Its Environs

Play In The Home

Play In The Dooryard Of The Farm Home

Some Experiences That Every Country Boy Should Have

The Improvement Of The School Ground

Equipping The School Ground

Organized Play In The School Yard

School Exhibitions And Corn Clubs

Recreation In The Rural Community

The Play Festival And Pageant In The Open Country

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