Back to School, Back to Recess

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  5. Social and Emotional Learning

Research suggests that playground social skills predict future success.

It’s time to welcome our students back to school.

"This time of year, so many schools are trying hard to improve their school climate," says Playworks Founder and CEO Jill Vialet. "They’re looking to boost grades and test scores, stop bullying and violent behavior, lower absenteeism and enhance kids’ attitudes towards school overall. What they may not realize is the impact that play and recess can make  in reaching those goals – or conversely, the role they play in making those outcomes more difficult to achieve."

You may have heard about a new 20-year study, which showed that children’s social skills in kindergarten could predict how well they would do by the time they became adults. Researchers at Penn State and Duke found that kindergarteners who were more “socially competent” (e.g. inclined to share, be helpful, or relate to their peers) were also more likely to graduate from high school, earn a college degree, and hold full-time jobs as adults, two decades later.

The researchers make a point of saying that this is good news because these skills can be learned in, and even after, kindergarten. It turns out that one of the best ways to teach those skills is not in the classroom but on the playground at recess.

One of the best examples of how to teach those positive social skills on the playground is Playworks, the leading national nonprofit leveraging the power of play to transform children’s social and emotional health. Playworks currently serves more than 900 schools in 23 U.S. cities, and reaches more than half of a million students directly and through professional training services. Our specialty is recess time, which is often one of the toughest times of the school day, when most behavioral problems occur. But on Playworks playgrounds, kids high-five each other and give shouts of encouragement. We ensure every child has the opportunity to play. And kids learn to instinctively resolve conflicts with each other using rock-paper-scissors.

Research conducted by Stanford University found that Playworks kids show more positive behavior on the playground and in the classroom compared to kids at similar schools.

Hoping that parents will take a good look at recess this year, we have developed a series of key questions to assess the quality of recess at your elementary school. How does your child's school measure up?

More Updates


September 3, 2020

How Equity, Trauma, and Play Intersect ›

The play opportunity gap Play is critical for healthy child development as it is a safe way for kids to experiment and practice building relationships and cooperating with others. And yet, even in normal circumstances before COVID-19, there wasn’t an equal opportunity for every kid to play. We need to make sure this disparity does…

August 17, 2020

Download the Playworks School Re-Opening Workbook ›

This is an unprecedented moment for kids, teachers, families, and schools. Re-opening our schools will involve decisions based on incomplete information that must be made in an environment that, at best, would be described as uncertain. The Playworks School Reopening Workbook is a free resource and workbook aiming to bring a bit of ease to…

August 14, 2020

Playful Ways to Build Relationships in 2020 ›

Rapport building is always key to a successful, engaging school year. When kids feel safe, empowered, and cared for, they are more likely to attend school, lean into their education, and develop critical social and emotional skills. This year, students around the country are going to school virtually, in-person with potential virtual experiences during COVID…