Positive cooperation. That’s how assistant principal Missy Vraney describes Playworks. Carolyn Muckelberg, Playworks development manager, visited with Ms. Vraney last week at Wilson Elementary in Mequon. Wilson serves students from kindergarten to fifth grade and boasts a student body of close to 600 kids. That’s a big school. With so many people in one building day in and day out, positive cooperation goes a long way.
Conflict resolution is a critical skill for young kids, especially in elementary school. Playworks uses ro-sham-bo as the go-to tool for quickly resolving disputes so that everyone can move on. Ro-sham-bo keeps games moving and settles disputes like who gets the ball next, who’s on base, and who's next in line. Ms. Vraney says that Wilson kids use it for everything and that they even made a ro-sham-bo PSA (public service announcement) espousing the benefits of this tool for kids and adults.
Positive language is another impact marker Wilson staff see on and off the playground. “Good job, nice try” has replaced “you’re out!" and this small change shifts the playground dynamics from negative to positive. Kids are able to transition better, take turns, and encourage one another with positivity. At Wilson, kids are given golden paw print incentives as one strategy in their PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports) efforts. Ms. Vraney also reports that, in February, they tracked incentives on the playground and as a result, there were zero playground-related discipline incidents in over a three-week period. Good job!
Inclusiveness, one of Playworks' core values, has also been on the rise at Wilson. Kids who were once left out of games because they lacked the confidence to approach groups of kids are now in the game and playing. For example, one fifth grader who doesn’t play club sports after school like many of his classmates is now comfortable joining a game of three-line basketball. The gym teachers are also reporting improvement in gym class because of the skills kids are learning on the playground.
Parent involvement has been key to the success of Playworks at Wilson. Typically, recess is a time for teachers to take a break, eat their lunch, and prep for the next lesson. Wilson leaders look to parents to support recess. Wilson now employs three parents who are serving as recess coordinators. That means rain or shine, parents are setting up the playground, teaching games, and getting kids moving.
One unexpected benefit of Playworks, Ms. Vraney shared, is that kids and teachers are included in games and playing more than ever before. Everyone is more active and involved not only in playing but also leading games. It’s even become part of their monthly community circles. Staff have carved out time at monthly all-school assemblies to teach a game, both for indoor and outdoor recess, while kids demonstrate it. Teachers are even incorporating attention getters and ro-sham-bo into their classroom structure.
Looking to the future, Ms. Vraney sees these tools and resources learned from Playworks supporting their larger school growth plan. Not only does Playworks support their PBIS goals but is aligning its existing plan to develop social and emotional skills in students at every grade level. In the coming year, Wilson staff are hoping to incorporate a youth leadership program for fourth- and fifth-grade students to be recess and play leaders.
What is the key to success? Ms. Vraney and her team are part of a larger effort underway in the Mequon Thiensville School District (MTSD). Playworks calls it Recess 360 but for schools like Wilson, it has become part of the fabric of their school culture. Through regular professional development, training, and visits from Playworks experts, MTSD faculty and staff are learning games and promoting positive cooperation. Thanks for bringing safe and healthy play to every kid every day!
“I love seeing the smiles on the recess team's faces, no matter the weather, because kids are getting along, playing with each other, and enjoying themselves.”
-Missy Vraney, Assistant Principal, Wilson Elementary School