Recess Reboot: Four Days to Creating a Culture of Positive Play

  1. Updates

Sometimes there’s something even better than a “win-win.” In the case of Playworks’ Recess Reboot at Griffin Avenue Elementary School, it’s more a case of a win-win-win.

As part of the USC Good Neighbors Grant Program, Playworks Instructional Coach Roxana Colmenares visited the school for four days in November to lead a Recess Reboot. Coach Rox taught strategies, games, and systems to model safe and healthy play to the kids and staff at the school located in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, not far from the USC Health Sciences campus.

Prior to her visit, staff used a system of “zones” that each student had to stick to, which made it easier for teacher aides to supervise children. Each zone featured a certain game that was played for an entire week. Roxana says that system led to a lot of unhappy kids.

“When I was observing, I’d walk around and ask, ‘Why are you sitting?’ and they’d be like, ‘Well, today is kickball.’ And I’d say, ‘Well, what do you want to play?’ ‘I want to play handball, but we have to wait because it’s not until two weeks when we get to that station.’ ”

During Roxana’s four days at Griffin Avenue, she demonstrated how using the Playworks model could create a culture of play where children had choices during recess and wouldn’t need to be restricted to a single game in a single area. It was a big mindset shift for the teacher assistants and other staff members who were used to supervising recess from the sidelines.

“The TAs moved to being more active and more engaged with all the kids,” Roxana says. “They’d tell me, ‘Oh, I can move around more. I can interact with other kids and not just the ones in my area.’ It’s more of an interactive supervising. ‘Oh, give me a high five.’ It was changing their mentality of what it looked like when they were outside. By the end, the adults were like, ‘I had so much fun playing.’ They were laughing, ‘I’m exhausted, but it’s a good type of exhaustion.’ ”

For the first time ever during the Reboot, the TAs sat together and bonded as a group, planning what games to play and what they needed to modify. They say they’re going to continue to meet on a monthly basis, something they’ve never done before. As for those zones, they’re likely gone for good because the advantages of the Playworks model were clear to all. Children from a special needs class were included in games with the general population of the school, and a group of girls who typically stuck to the sidelines joined in on games. After all, who wouldn’t want to play Hungry Hungry Hippo, RoShamBo Relay, and Switch?

“They had what they called the sitting zone where the girls were able to just sit,” Roxana says. “So one of the TAs was like, ‘There’s nobody in the sitting zone. The girls are actually out there playing.’ So again, going back to those options, they were able to pick the game they actually wanted to play during that week.”

Before the Reboot, students had graded recess as a “three” out of five—not terrible but not great, either. Afterward, their rating jumped to a much higher four or 4.5. But for teachers and administrators, one aspect of Recess Reboot got a perfect grade. There wasn’t a single referral to the office for discipline issues during the entire four days Roxana visited.

So about that win-win-win? Win number one: All kids were included and had fun playing games they were able to choose. Win number two: Positive play translated into zero referrals for discipline. And win number three: the teacher aides grew more engaged with children at recess and bonded as a team.

“As I was leaving, the adults were already brainstorming how they were going to implement the program,” Roxana says. “I was able to see how their mindset shifted and how they enjoyed being out there with the kids.”

Griffin Avenue’s Recess Reboot was supported by the USC Good Neighbors Grant Program funded by university employee contributions to support the university-community partnership.

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