As parents prepare their kids to tackle another year of challenging school academics, it’s also a good time to focus attention on whether their child has an adequate dose of healthy play time. Many parents assume that their elementary school will provide a positive play experience during school recess, but the fact is that a growing number of schools are looking for ways to reduce the chaos that often occurs during recess and to shift kids’ behavior in a positive direction.
Playworks, a national nonprofit that provides an organized program of play for schools by placing a trained full-time recess coach at the school or through staff training programs restores valuable teaching time, reduces bullying, increases physical activity and improves the school and learning environment. Playworks Greater Newark/Greater New York has grown from working in seven elementary schools in 2009 to working in 24 schools in northern New Jersey (Newark, Roselle and Paterson) and New York City (Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens) in the 2012-2013 academic school year.
“In our experience, bullying thrives in a climate of chaos, conflict and social isolation. Playworks eliminates the chaos by focusing on building students’ social and emotional skills through recess and play,” says Adeola Whitney, executive director of Playworks Greater Newark/Greater New York. “Playworks teaches children to resolve their own conflicts that arise at recess and carry over to the classroom, restoring valuable teach and learning time.”
Research shows that schools that invest in recess and organized play strengthen recess by transforming the school climate, paving the way for less bullying and more focus on learning. A recent study by Mathematica Policy Research and Stanford University compared schools using the Playworks program to a control group of similar schools without the program. The study found that at the schools with Playworks, there was less bullying and exclusionary behavior. It also found that teachers perceived students to be safer during recess and engaged in more inclusive play. Transitions from recess to learning were easier with Playworks schools, and students demonstrated better behavior and attention in class after participation in sports, games and play.
In Greater Newark/Greater New York, a survey of schools that partnered with Playworks last year found that 98 percent of principals, teachers and staff reported that students were more physically active during recess; 82 percent reported a decrease in the number of bullying incidents; 92 percent reported an increase in the use of conflict resolution strategies during recess; and 85 percent reported an increase in the level of participation in academic activities.
How can Parents Help?
Playworks Greater Newark/Greater New York recommends that parents ask their children when they come home from school about their play experience at school:
- Are they having fun?
- Did they learn new games and make new friends?
- Do they feel safe and comfortable with the other children?
- Are they involved in the games at recess or sitting/observing?
- Do they look forward to going to recess, or are they afraid of it?
By learning about the child’s play experience at school, parents can be in a better position to help their children deal with issues that may arise during recess and advocate for them with school administration.
Parents can also play transition games to help their children get focused on after-school homework. For example, a Playworks game that helps develops students’ concentration and listening skills is “Up, Down, Stop Go.” Both the student and parents stand up to begin, and when the parent shouts out “up,” everyone should do the opposite move and squat. On “down,” everyone should jump or stretch up as high as he or she can. On “stop,” everyone should move around. On “go,” everyone should freeze. As the game progresses, the commands get faster and faster.