— I’m a fifth-grade teacher and, although recess is a time for fresh air, exercise and friends, there’s more that goes on. After a recent snowfall, I witnessed something that made me smile on a cold recess duty — forts and tunnels.

Armored with snowsuits, the kids charged out on the playground and dispersed to their chosen area. Some formed roving groups of conversation, a few bolted for the equipment, while others ascended the snowbanks left byplows. A better piece of playground equipment you couldn’t find.

Several mounds of snow had become construction sites for forts and tunnels. No tools, no instructions, just inventiveness and perseverance. Tunnels were dug with gloves, mittens and sheer determination.

The smallest kids grew in stature, as they became the best, deepest tunnel diggers. Snow mounds were surveyed for the best snow texture to yield boulders and blocks. These kids weren’t getting to the next level on a video game; they were becoming engineers. Forts emerged from the plowed remains of the last snowstorm. A sturdy gloved hand sawed and chiseled blocks into a desired shape. A boot heel jack-hammered off chunks to be fitted into place. Boulders were rolled with many mittens multiplying their power.

I witnessed several students wrestling with a rectangular slab for half the recess time until they got it to the building site. It was nice to see the spirit of perseverance in 10-year-olds.

Then something happened, which at first was troubling, but under it all was an authentic lesson. Students started complaining about others taking their snow or wrecking their forts. I listened to their complaints and, in the back of my mind, thought, what’s a fort worth if it’s not attacked?

But I did my duty to keep the playground safe and fair by investigating the allegations and taking appropriate measures. Chucks of ice and slabs of crust were argued over. Economics 101 had reared its ugly head right between the basketball hoops and the soccer goals.

The white fluff had turned to gold. What school children cheered and shovelers cursed had entered the marketplace and created its own value. After fielding several complaints of unfair mining practices and outright thievery, I dug deeper and realized that the kids spoke not about ownership, but the work they had put into procuring it.

Whether it was lugging it halfway across the playground or spending 10 minutes dislodging a prized chunk from a snow bank, it was their hard work that was being compromised.

Although I wish recess duty was just fresh air and exercise without the conflict, it warmed my heart — kids honoring hard work of their own volition. Even though their construction efforts eventually melted as the temperatures rose, the value still remains in a student’s hard work that builds character.

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