Playworks for every kid

Why Playworks

Playworks’ vision is that one day every child in America will get to play—every day. We are changing school culture by leveraging the power of safe, fun, and healthy play at school every day. We create a place for every kid on the playground to feel included, be active, and build valuable social and emotional skills. We offer an essential opportunity for children to explore their imaginations, to connect with other kids, and to stretch and grow physically, emotionally and socially.

Why is Playworks even necessary? Traditionally, older children pass down games and take the lead in modeling a culture of play for younger children. Our experience is that diminishing opportunities for unsupervised play in our society have left kids with less knowledge of traditional recess games, less experience resolving conflicts independently, and fewer strategies for making play fun, inclusive, and safe enough to avoid trips to the Principal’s office. When grown-ups or older students in leadership positions introduce basic rules and set the tone, children are better equipped to make play work. Schools that may have previously banned running or tag, or discontinued recess altogether, are more comfortable letting kids be kids, knowing that they have the tools they need to take responsibility for their actions.

Who is actually leading play? With hundreds of students out at recess at any time, everyone is leading play. Adults and Junior Coaches (student leaders) lead organized games, while all other students are welcome to play their own games that extend Playworks’ culture of inclusion, healthy play, and healthy communities. We believe that kids have innate leadership, and give them easy ways to take ever-increasing responsibility for the quality of play and for each other. Ultimately our unique brand of play fosters greater independence and leadership among children. On our playgrounds, kids feel safe and included, a part of the action. Games are safe and organized. Any child is welcome and able to play in any game or engage in free- or imaginative-play.

In partnership with teachers, principals, and parents, we build a culture of play that enables kids to feel a real sense of belonging and have the opportunity to contribute on the playground, in the classroom, and into their communities.

Isn’t ro-sham-bo just a silly game? We are huge fans of rock-paper-scissors, also known as “ro-sham-bo”. Building a play culture that acknowledges the arbitrariness of most conflicts and provides a simple, playful tool for addressing them, ultimately makes it easier for kids to recognize and address more serious conflicts through other conflict resolution techniques, such as I-messages and peer mediation.

Who needs grown-ups? A grown-up standing on the sidelines barking instructions only serves to perpetuate the less-than-playful status quo. But when adults get in the game and actually play themselves, it introduces an important element of whim and shared humanity, making the play more accessible, and helping children feel safer and more connected. This is true both for kids who choose to play games led by adults and for kids who choose to spend recess playing in other ways such as engaging in free- or imaginative-play.

Is competition really so bad? Our program is centered around fun, continuous access to games, and focusing on the joy of playing rather than winning or losing. One amazing thing about play is that kids’ desire to keep the activity going will often motivate them to look beyond competition to take actions that are actually in the best interest of the larger group. Most often this manifests as self-handicapping, like switching players or adapting the rules, to ensure that everyone is having enough fun to continue playing.

Playworks encourages this behavior by creating shared understandings for games that give students the opportunity to stay as active as possible at recess. Students who are “out” in our version of tag, for example, do a few jumping jacks and then immediately come back in. Our belief is that creating options for children to engage in healthy, inclusive play represents an important opportunity for learning to deal with both winning and losing with grace.