When Hannah Reinke found out her students would get recess for the first time, she was thrilled. Nashville Metro Public Schools increased break time requirements last year, so Antioch Middle School borrowed time from advisory periods and “related arts” classes like P.E. and Music to give students daily recess for the first time.
As a P.E. Teacher, Reinke was looking forward to recess, because she understands the importance of play. But then reality hit. “My six related arts teammates and I were charged with having recess however we wanted, a whole grade at a time,” said Reinke.
“We let them all out on the football field, gave them a couple balls, and said, ‘go ahead, good luck!’ It was a tornado, a hurricane, and a tsunami wrapped up as one. Fights, injuries—kids didn’t know how to interact in that environment, we didn’t know how to resolve conflicts in that environment, and by first quarter I was desperate.”
Reinke reached out to everyone she could think of for help, from other schools to the district’s school health coordinator, but she came up dry, “Everyone was trying to address the same issue at the same time.”
Eventually, she googled “recess help” and stumbled upon Playworks. “We started using the game guide immediately,” she said. “It was really great, especially for providing games for classroom teachers.”
While games were helpful, Reinke knew she needed help to create a strategy that would get recess chaos in check. A Playworks Pro training seemed like the best solution, and Principal Ceilia Conley saw the need.
“I understand principals who don’t want to invest in recess,” said Conley, “It is not a tested subject, so it is hard to bite the bullet. But if 80% of my headache stems from recess and teachers are having to deal with behavior incidents from recess in math class, it is worth it.”
Playworks Trainer Sean Keelan came out from Playworks’ Georgia office to lead a two-day training at Antioch Middle School this summer. “The trainer worked with our related arts team to come up with a recess plan,” said Reinke, “He taught us the games and helped us work out facilities challenges, rotations, and logistics.” An all-staff training introduced tools that teachers now use school-wide, like playing rock-paper-scissors for conflict resolution.
“Last year, we tried everything we could think of—we even had classes in separate locations,” says Reinke. “This year, we went back to all the kids out at the same time, but with Playworks now we have games set up in consistent locations. We painted three foursquare courts, got basketball hoops put up, and are working on tetherball. We have just the equipment needed and nothing extra, so we no longer have balls flying everywhere and people getting hurt.”
Simple strategies like these made a big difference. “It has been amazing. Now, kids have ways to express themselves, to play, and to move,” says Reinke. “And they can choose to do so. It’s not like we are out there teaching a P.E. class. It’s been amazing to see our 6th graders go crazy for jump rope.”
“When kids come back to class they are sweaty. They smell like they’ve been at recess!” says Conley, laughing. “They are getting their energy out before class. My teachers love it.”
The biggest difference is the decrease in conflict spilling from recess into the classroom. “Last year, we would blow the whistle to dismiss and fights would break out on the way back into class. Teachers hated it as much as we did. Now, they don’t have to deal with those conflicts,” says Reinke, “With Playworks, it was a solid two months before we had even a slight altercation.”
Recess went to being one of the most dreaded parts of the day to one of the most loved—by everyone. “Middle school teachers don’t typically find recess enjoyable. It’s not what they signed up for. Now, my teachers love it.” said Conley. She also notes that before, students did not really care about recess. Now, many report that recess is their favorite activity.
Reinke is grateful that recess is finally serving the role she always thought it could, and that it shows. “They are having so much fun. Now, when we have an assembly and we can’t do recess, kids are super antsy. They just need to run around sometimes!”
This summer, Tennessee passed statewide legislation requiring longer recess breaks. Antioch Middle School got a head start.
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