Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Assessing the Climate of the Playground and Lunchroom: Implications for Bullying Prevention Programming

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Assessing the Climate of the Playground and Lunchroom: Implications for Bullying Prevention Programming

Article excerpt

Abstract. A considerable number of bullying prevention and intervention programs are being implemented in elementary schools across the United States and worldwide. However, although the majority of aggressive interchanges between students occur in the playground and lunchroom contexts, many well-known outcome measures of bullying are not particularly sensitive to those unstructured settings. The authors used a participatory action research framework to partner with playground and lunchroom personnel and community members to conduct an extensive scale development study, which resulted in the creation of the Playground and Lunchroom Climate Questionnaire (PLCQ). An initial psychometric study of the PLCQ was conducted to assess school climate variables that may affect children's social and behavioral functioning at school from the perspective of playground and lunchroom personnel. Results from the study suggest that the PLCQ measures two school context variables: (a) structure for activities and monitoring, and (b) staff collaboration. Suggestions for combining the PLCQ with more traditional measures to guide bullying prevention and intervention programming are discussed.

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Day-to-day acts of bullying and victimization have become a pervasive problem in many schools across the country (Left, Kupersmidt, Patterson, & Power, 1999; Nansel et al., 2001). Bullies and victims experience a wide range of academic, social, behavioral, and emotional difficulties as they get older (e.g., Loeber et al., 1993; Moffit, Caspi, Dickson, Silva, & Stanton, 1996). To develop effective prevention programs, it is essential to identify factors that contribute to those problems. Research has clearly demonstrated that bullying and victimization are most likely to occur in unstructured school settings, such as on the playground and in the lunchroom (Craig & Pepler, 1997; Craig, Pepler, & Atlas, 2000; Olweus, 1993). The purpose of this article is to review playground characteristics that influence children's behavior, describe the development of a questionnaire designed to assess critical dimensions of school playground and lunchroom contexts, investigate the psychometric properties of this measure, and discuss its implications for school bullying prevention and intervention programs.

School Playgrounds and Recess

There is an ongoing debate among educators over the merits and limitations of recess for young children; however, the majority of elementary schools across the nation schedule regular recess periods. School recess is often viewed as a break period during which students are free to interact, play games, and have conversations with classmates in a less structured setting than in the classroom environment. Recess typically takes place in outdoor areas such as on blacktops or on playgrounds in the school yard. Although there is much variation across schools in features of the recess period (e.g., frequency and duration, level and type of adult supervision, availability of equipment, type of activities), the unstructured nature of this setting offers researchers an ideal naturalistic setting in which to better understand how children develop friendships and learn to engage with others (Blatchford, Creeser, & Mooney, 1990; Pellegrini & Bjorklund, 1996).

A number of researchers have found that school recess can have an effect on children's education and development (e.g., Pellegrini & Bjorklund, 1996; Pellegrini & Davis, 1993; Pellegrini & Smith, 1993). First, playground experiences may promote children's social competence. Social competence is defined as the degree to which children are able to adapt skillfully to the demands of their school and peer relationships (Pellegrini & Glickman, 1990). For instance, the recess period provides children with the chance to interact with diverse peers, try out new social skills they have learned, and practice negotiating and problem solving. …

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