Building skills through play: developing youth leaders on the playground

  1. Updates

What does youth empowerment look like at recess and why is it important?

Every kid deserves the opportunity to shine. The playground is the perfect place to empower students and build their confidence by giving them opportunities to lead, whether it be with their own classmates or students in younger grades. Play is such a natural way that kids learn, so leveraging play time as a space to empower students and practice skills such as communication, collaboration, and teamwork is crucial to their development.

Leadership opportunities come in many different forms at recess, and they don’t all have to involve leading a game! Try out these student roles at recess: 

  • Equipment Manager – give out recess equipment at the beginning of recess, and put it all away at the end of recess
  • Recess Buddy – invite others to join a game, or join a game with someone who might be playing alone
  • High Five Giver – encourage a positive environment on the playground by giving out as many high fives as possible and practice using positive language, such as “Good job, nice try.”
  • Rock Paper Scissors Ref – encourage the use of  Rock, Paper, Scissors for minor conflicts

Games and activities to practice leadership and empower students:

  • Maze Game: Students must work together and come up with a strategy in order to be successful in this game. Perfect for both indoor and outdoor recess and brain breaks, the Maze Game will test students’ ability to communicate effectively and strategize!
  • Rock Paper Scissors Rockstar: An important part of leadership is knowing how to cheer people on and offer encouragement. RPS Rockstar is a great game to practice cheering classmates on, as well as empowering students to practice using Rock Paper Scissors to resolve minor conflicts.
  • Alligator Swamp: In order to be successful in Alligator Swamp, students have to strategize and communicate to get everyone from one side of the “swamp” to the other. You may notice some students stepping up to lead their group strategy and others being the encouragers. At the end of the game, be sure to highlight that there are many different leadership styles, all of them important and necessary. 

Other resources:

  • We build play into leadership through our Junior Coach Leadership Program, which encourages teams of students to work together to learn games, fair play, and positive conflict resolution strategies. Junior Coaches are then equipped to teach these skills and lessons out at recess and in the classroom to their peers. Check out this blog about Junior Coaches rocking recess all across New England, or this video that explains the power of the Junior Coach Leadership Program.
  • Looking for other ways to empower youth through social-emotional learning? This article provides eight actionable steps to center SEL at school and in your community.
Do you have other ideas for how to empower students at recess? Tweet us and let us know!

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