Playworks brings out the best in kids, through play
Playtime is kids’ time. But schools can and should create play environments that help kids be their best. Studies show that recess matters: a thoughtful approach to recess improves children’s physical health and social and emotional learning.
Playworks helps schools and districts make the most of recess through on-site staffing, consultative support, professional development, free resources, and more.
We also support youth programs and other organizations that wish to improve playtime. Organizations like SHAPE America, The Centers for Disease Control, and City Year all look to Playworks to inform practice and policy.
Helping Schools Rethink Recess
For over 20 years, Playworks has helped schools figure out what works well on their playgrounds.
For recess to reinforce school culture, we’ve learned that a holistic approach is needed. Here are a few of the focus areas Playworks helps schools address:
Many schools ban games like tag. Some ban recess altogether. If the nurse’s and principal’s offices are filled to capacity after lunch each day, it is time to rethink recess.
Instead of banning games or playtime, we help schools find ways to keep kids playing. For example, recess monitors can teach students to tag using light “butterfly fingers” to keep scrapes and bruises manageable.
Kids can learn to use rock, paper, scissors to solve problems quickly and keep playing. They can give high fives and say “good job, nice try” when peers rotate to the back of the line in Foursquare. Recess is a perfect opportunity to develop school-wide norms for conflict resolution and community.
My 5-year-old twins were diagnosed with autism 3 years ago. If I had to choose one program out of the handful that help with social interaction, it would be Playworks. Playworks immerses our twins into their community. Other children know them and are used to working with them.
Playworks helps schools set parameters for all children to help them understand what is OK and what is not. I think all kids need that, but kids with special needs especially need to have that direction.
We all have times when what feels good is to “sit this one out”. But some kids sit on the sidelines all the time: they don’t know how to play or aren’t invited to join in. Recess should be a time when everyone feels welcome.
Adults can set the tone by inviting children to play, reminding students of the rules using different learning styles, and modeling inclusion. Introducing fun variations on traditional playground games—like Crossover Dodgeball, where the goal is to get everyone to the other side and no one is “out”—is another way to make recess inclusive for everyone.
Inclusive playgrounds are also healthy playgrounds. One randomized control trial found that kids on Playworks’ playgrounds got more moderate and vigorous physical activity than peers at other schools. When all kids feel can join in, more kids stay physically active during free time—without even thinking about it.
Students who were formerly causing trouble have turned into leaders. The faculty has been able to concentrate more on the curriculum rather than fixing the issues, and the classrooms have become more peaceful and a safer learning environment.
Principal, East Midvale Elementary, UT
At a great recess, all students have real choices in how they play. They feel included in games or in imaginative play. They also feel empowered to play on their own or to start activities with other students. Older students can make a big difference.
The natural leaders on the playground are kids, not adults. Kids want to be acknowledged for their leadership abilities, and they want to grow. A little encouragement is all kids need to lead games, pass out equipment, and set a positive, playful tone.
The Playworks Junior Coach Leadership Program puts the recess culture into the hands of capable upper-elementary students.
See them in action in these videos from two of our schools: