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A School Playground

DSC01528 Her arms are like airplane wings as she walks across a log that washed to shore with the tide.  Her two friends follow her.  One small step at a time.  At the end of the log, the girls reverse order and wave their arms as an airplane caught in a windstorm.  Two boys, about their same age of 8, stand close by.  Heads together, talking.  The boys run toward the girls.  A boy pushes a girl, just enough that she loses her balance and jumps onto the sand, but not enough that she falls into the water on the other side of the log.

The game begins.   Girls chase boys.  The five children run in circles.  Laughing.  Squealing.  They run around and around until a girl grabs a boy’s arm.  The other boy stops running and laughs as the three girls hold his friend’s arms, pumping them up and down.  What now?  The girls caught him, now what?  Jump and pump and laugh until someone falls to the ground and the boy wiggles free and runs away.  Now far, just a few feet.

Run and chase.   A game that children play on school playgrounds.  No rules.  No score.  Just chase, catch, and release.  This playground is a sandy beach in Ambergris Caye, Belize, bordered by the Caribbean Sea.  There are no fences around the playground – it’s not even on the school campus.  It’s across the street from the concrete school building painted sky blueIt’s between the San Pedro Visitors’ Center and the restaurant where I’m eating lunch on the porch.

The children are students of the primary government school, grades 1-6.  The school day is 8:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., with a break between 11:30 and 1:00 for lunch and free time.  Children who live close walk home for lunch.  Some eat at a restaurant or buy food from a street vendor.  Some bring their lunch and eat outside.  And some, like the ones I watch, walk across the street to the beach to meet their parents, and younger siblings, at one of the five picnic tables. After the students eat, they play.

They wear school uniforms.  Navy blue long pants and white button front, short sleeve shirts with collars for the boys.  White blouses with peter pan collars under navy blue A-line jumpers for the girls.  Both boys and girls wear black slip-on shoes.  The boys wear dark socks; the girls, white anklets.

Children run along the hard packed sand on the beach and on the wooden plank piers, to the end and back.  The boys climb palm trees.  Parents, sitting in the shade at the picnic tables, call out and the children stop climbing so high and running so fast.  The older girls gather in small groups and talk.  Young children, using their hands, dig and draw pictures in the sand.  Two girls sit at a picnic table and write in a spiral notebook.  And many students, like the three girls I watched closely, walk nature-made balance beams, logs washed ashore.

As I walk down the steps from the restaurant onto the sand, children run along the water’s edge.  They laugh and squeal.  Boys chasing girls.  The girls stop, turn, and grab one boy’s arms and legs.  Four girls swing him like a hammock just inches above the sand and one step from the sea.



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