Susan Comfort, Playworks DC executive director, had an editorial placed in the Current Newspapers of Northwest Washington, D.C. You can read the article below.

When my youngest started first grade, I watched with pride and nervousness as she navigated her new “big kid” territory. When she came home a few weeks later saying “I don’t like school,” I was puzzled. She was a good student, she had friends, and she’d liked this school for three years already. But she didn’t want to talk about it.

It took a while — too long — for all of us to figure out that my daughter was being excluded at recess. She wasn’t called names, she wasn’t in fights, she was simply excluded, and yes, that is enough to make a child dislike the entire school day.

Now that I direct Playworks DC, I see similar challenges across the city, and I know there are effective solutions to cure recess problems in any elementary school.

But first things first: Why is recess important? Because it gives students a chance to be physically active and to learn important social and life skills, such as fair play, resolving disagreements and having empathy for others. It helps them return to class cheerful, energized and ready to learn. The American Academy of Pediatrics considers it a crucial part of the school day — crucial for a child’s overall development. Finland has figured this out, too.

So how can you be sure that your child’s school delivers a recess that is safe and healthy, not chaotic and full of conflict? Start by asking your child’s principal or teacher a few basic questions:

  • Does this school have daily recess (at least 20 minutes)?
  • Do all kids feel included and do kids have an opportunity to lead play?
  • Do children have a common set of rules and a conflict resolution strategy?
  • Are there active, trained adults on the playground?
  • Is there a variety of games for kids to play?
  • Does this school withhold recess as punishment? 

(You can obtain more information at

As a parent, I know full well that every mom and dad already has an overflowing plate of tasks they take on to make sure their child is safe, happy and successful in school and in life. Paying attention to that recess period can go further than you might imagine in reaching these goals.

Playworks has created a recess and play program used in more than 900 schools throughout the country. Here in D.C., we provide full-time services to 18 schools and part-time training to dozens of others, reaching over 14,000 kids. Our full-time Northwest schools include Hyde-Addison Elementary, Barnard Elementary, Brightwood Education Campus, Capital City Public Charter, Powell Elementary and West Education Campus.

Research conducted by Stanford University and Mathematica Policy Research reports that in the Playworks schools studied, bullying decreased, children felt safer, there was more vigorous physical activity and teachers gained eight minutes of quality classroom time each day.
As Jill Vialet — my boss, Playworks CEO and founder, and a D.C. native — has explained, “Unlike when most of us were kids, many children today just don’t have the same opportunity to learn how to play. We had more free time, safer streets, and older neighbors and siblings teaching us the rules. Today’s kids need a little help along the way.”
My daughter’s recess experience has a happy ending. Her school hired Playworks for a full day of play-focused professional development, and recess quickly became more inclusive. Phew. Another problem averted.
I hope 2014-15 is the school year when all principals, teachers and parents understand the fundamental importance of recess in elementary school. It’s not extra. It’s mission-critical.
Susan Comfort is the executive director of Playworks Washington, D.C.

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