History & Milestones

One day in 1995,

Jill Vialet was sitting across from the principal of an elementary school in Oakland. The principal had 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.

Two Decades of Play

Jill Vialet took that principal seriously, and Playworks was born.

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. Through play, kids learn to make friends, solve problems, and believe in themselves, every day.

By our 25th anniversary, Playworks had served 2,174,400 kids through 3,259 school partnerships, out-of-school providers, and community organizations through on-site services, professional development, and digital support. Hundreds of AmeriCorps Members and staff had improved the well-being of children through play. Backed by significant momentum, Playworks is exploring new ways to help schools make the most of playtime





Playworks was founded as Sports4Kids in 1996.
Founded in 1996, Sports4Kids became Playworks in 2009 to better reflect our focus.
  • An elementary school principal vents her frustration with recess to Jill Vialet (1995)
  • Playworks is founded and transforms recess in two schools in Berkeley, California (1996)
  • Playworks launches its first girls basketball team with Title IX Sports (1998)



Playworks staff in Baltimore. In 2005, Baltimore was the first office Playworks opened in a new state.


  • Playworks expands to serve schools in San Francisco (2003)
  • Playworks expands to Baltimore (2005)

New Initiatives

  • Playworks launches first community training initiative, training adults so more kids can play every day (2003)
  • Playworks awarded first AmeriCorps contract, pairing adults who wish to serve with kids who need to play (2004)
  • Playworks sends more than 30 staff to Houston, TX, to give children displaced by Hurricane Katrina the chance to play (2005)

Support and Recognition

  • Jill Vialet is elected an Ashoka Fellow (2004)
  • Playworks awarded $4.4 million expansion grant from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (2005)



In 2009, Playworks hosts Play On, the first-ever national conference on play, in San Francisco.


  • Playworks expands to schools in Boston and Washington, DC (2006)
  • Playworks opens Silicon Valley operations (2006)
  • Playworks expands to schools in St. Louis and New Orleans (2008)
  • The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awards Playworks an $18 million grant to expand to additional cities (2008)
  • Playworks expands to Portland, Los Angeles and Newark (2009)
  • Playworks expands into Denver, Detroit, Houston, New York, Philadelphia, and the Twin Cities (2010)

New initiatives

  • Playworks hosts Play On, the first-ever national conference on play, in San Francisco (2009)
  • Playworks, formerly Sports4Kids, announces its new name (2009)
  • Playworks partners with the National Head Start Association and Nike to provide training and technical service (2009)
  • Playworks launches district-wide program to train campus security assistants in Stockton, CA (2010)

Support and Recognition

  • “Recess Rules,” a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report about the value of recess, recognizes Playworks as an exceptional model for improving the health of children (2007)
  • The Open Society Institute in Baltimore documents Playworks’ effectiveness in reducing suspension rates (2007)
  • Harvard Family Research Project finds that Playworks improves students’ focus and participation in class (2007)
  • Playworks is recognized as a top “Changemaker” by Ashoka and Nike (2008)
  • Playworks coaches and staff lead games at the White House Annual Easter Egg Roll (2009)
  • Playworks invited to become part of First Lady’s Let’s Move initiative (2010)
  • Playworks Founder Jill Vialet addresses the TEDx Conference in San Francisco (2010)
  • ABC Nightline features Playworks during Recess Roll-Out week in Little Rock (2010)
  • Jill Vialet honored as a social innovator at the Clinton Global Initiative (2010)



In 2015, Playworks Arizona sets a Guinness World Record for largest game of red light, green light.


  • Playworks expands to Albuquerque, NM; Chicago, IL; Durham, NC; Jackson, MS; Phoenix, AZ and Salt Lake City, UT (2011)
  • Playworks expands to Milwaukee, WI (2012)
  • 400+ organizations served by Playworks Pro training service (2012)
  • Playworks launches in Indianapolis (2013)
  • Playworks launches in Georgia (2014)

New Initiatives

  • Playworks pilots TeamUp, a new service providing an on-site coordinator to teach, model, and empower a sustainable recess program (2014)
  • Following a successful pilot, Playworks TeamUp expands to serve schools across the country (2015)

Support and Recognition

  • Jill Vialet named one of the 30 most influential social entrepreneurs by Forbes Magazine (2012)
  • A randomized control trial by Mathematica Policy Research and Stanford University finds that Playworks reduces bullying, decreases transition time to learning (2012)
  • The same study finds that Playworks increases vigorous physical activity and students’ feelings of safety compared to control schools (2013)
  • Jill Vialet honored with James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award (2013)
  • Playworks featured on ABC Good Morning America, The New York Times (2011)
  • Playworks featured in PBS’ American Graduate Day for engaging children early to support graduation (2013)
  • Jill Vialet, Playworks CEO and founder, speaks at TEDMED about the importance of play (2014)
  • Playworks Arizona sets a Guinness World Record for the world’s largest game of red light, green light (2015)



Former President and First Lady Obama played rock-paper-scissors with Playworks students at Leckie Elementary School in Washington, D.C. Jan. 18, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


  • Playworks celebrates 20 years of bringing healthy, safe, and inclusive play to children nationwide (2016)
  • Playworks announces Playworks AIM, an effort to bring safe and healthy activities to 3.5 million children and 7,000 elementary schools nationwide (2016)
  • Playworks receives grants totaling $26 million in support of Playworks AIM and its efforts to expand nationwide (2016)

Support and Recognition

  • First Lady Michelle Obama sends out a special message to Playworks and Super Bowl 50 fans about the importance of active play during the opening of Super Bowl City (2016)
  • Playworks CEO and Founder Jill Vialet rings the NASDAQ Opening Bell (2017)
  • Based on a Playworks evaluation, researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz call on states and school districts to require elementary schools to provide daily recess for all students (2017)



boy interacting with students on ipad
Students across the country experienced virtual learning for the first time.


  • In response to the pandemic, Playworks launched Play at Home to provide schools and families with virtual recess, printable playbooks, and other ways to continue to enjoy the benefits of play from the safety of home.  (2020)
  • Playworks releases new digital offering, Keep Playing, providing weekly curated content to assist educators and families to bring play to every child’s day. (2020)

Support and Recognition

  • Playworks founder Jill Vialet releases Playworks School Reopening Workbook, a free resource and workbook aiming to bring a bit of ease to this transition. (2020)
  • Playworks partners with Brookings to publish “All kids deserve to have recess next school year” (2021)
  • The American Institutes for Research shared a case study about how Playworks is leveraging the power of play to support whole child development. (2021)
  • Jill Vialet published ‘Why Play Works’ based on the stories from people who have worked with Playworks, identifying 20 small steps that lead to big change. (2021)