Our Story | Playworks

Playworks for every kid

Our Story

In 1996, Jill Vialet was sitting across from a principal of an elementary school in Oakland. The principal arrived late, with three 5th grade boys in tow. These boys had been sent to the principal’s office for the third time that week. Exasperated, the principal asked, “What I really need help with is recess. Can you do anything about that instead?”

She was tired of seeing the same kids in her office every day, hauled in for fighting on the playground. These weren’t bad kids, the principal insisted. They just were using their powers unwisely on the playground. Meanwhile, her teachers looked for any excuse—sometimes literally hiding—to avoid recess so they wouldn’t have to confront the inevitable outbreak of chaos.

Shortly after that meeting, Vialet founded Sports4Kids, now Playworks. Our goal: transform recess and the school day through safe and healthy play so teachers can teach and kids can learn.

Today, recess on our playgrounds is a lot more fun. There are games going on in spaces that were previously unused or chaotic. There are fewer kids on the sidelines. Kids play together and invite everyone to join in. They’re active, and you see a lot of high fives and hear a lot of positive language. On our playgrounds, kids resolve their own conflicts by simply using Rock-Paper-Scissors. Every kid plays.

Playworks is the leading national nonprofit leveraging the power of play to transform children's social and emotional health. We create a place for every kid on the playground to feel included, be active, and build valuable social and emotional skills.

Our trained, full-time coaches support at hundreds of low-income schools in major urban areas. We also provide professional training for school staff who support recess and consultative partnerships for any school, district, or youth organizations that want to ensure that every kid plays safely, inclusively, and with joy.

Principals and teachers at our schools want us back every year, telling us that that disciplinary issues are down and engagement and participation in the classroom are up. They tell us there is more community at their schools with kids playing outside their normal groups. And they tell us that there is more time for students to learn because teachers spend less time transitioning from recess to the classroom, and fewer conflicts spilling into it. In fact, around the country our teachers tell us they get back around 20 hours in recovered teaching time.

They tell us that safe and healthy play at schools helps students succeed in the classroom—and in life. Play works for every kid.