My first experience with Playworks was on a recess site visit in my capacity as a public health professional. I witnessed how a structured school play environment can also be child affirming, joyous, and a place for leadership development. Years ago as an AmeriCorps member, I had been a playground “Duty” and recess never looked this conflict-free and active.
Playworks is shaping the physical, situational and policy environments of the school. The physical changes in the space supported interaction and physical activity – for example a defined dance area with music. The situational environment, or how people interact within the space, had been invisibly structured to reduce the potential for conflict and encourage children to support one another. The school we visited trains all adults and children about the recess game rules—a policy that ensures the school community is reinforcing each other’s efforts. In the world of public health, this is known as a multi-level intervention. Research indicates it is the most robust way to support behavior changes.
I have explored the need for social, physical, and emotional supports as it relates to natural and inclusive play, children’s school attendance, healthy eating, and as a protective factor against Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). For me this first visit to a Playworks school mirrored what I had read in research and was an on-the-ground example of how to transform an underutilized time such as recess into a proactive youth building effort.