Wisconsin Schools Prioritize Recess and Play During the Pandemic

  1. Updates

Every week, our school communities face new and evolving challenges. For in-person schools, the need to socially distance, limit movement in the classroom, pivot to online learning when quarantining is needed, and the ever-present worry of virus exposure all contribute to a more stressful school environment. For our virtual-only schools, there are fewer opportunities for students to connect with each other, time spent moving is limited, and screen fatigue all impact a student’s learning experience. Because of these factors and many others, the school year looks very different, and prioritizing play can be difficult. That said, there are a lot of schools in Wisconsin that believe play remains critical. Even now, they are working hard to make sure every kid at their school can play, every day. This can be a difficult goal to achieve when you consider the competing priorities of the moment. Fortunately, they aren’t on this journey alone.

“Playworks has been going well at Hadfield this year! We are very thankful to have this program…especially during these unusual times. The structure has allowed us to seamlessly and safely divide our playgrounds into fun and engaging games for all students to enjoy. Coach Courtney has been invaluable…THANK YOU!”
– Michael Elliot, Hadfield Principal

The Playworks Wisconsin team has long known that to achieve positive outcomes for kids, we need to cultivate a strong partnership with our school partners. Our most impactful programs are the ones where there is open dialogue, trust, and a common belief that meaningful play is essential to a student’s school day. The challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic have underlined these points several times over, and we are proud to say that our school partnerships are stronger than ever. We are working collaboratively with our schools’ recess teams to understand the protocols needed to be as safe as possible while also looking for every opportunity to incorporate play, SEL skill practice, and joyful community building even when we can’t high five. Highlights include:

  • New Game Guides for in-person, COVID-safe play that incorporates social distancing for both indoor and outdoor recess.
  • Altered recess systems that include strategies for zoning of the playground to ensure cohorts don’t mix while also establishing multiple, varied game options so recess is never boring.
  • Taking the virtual school day beyond the bare-bones by adding daily virtual recess even when it is not required.
  • Student leadership opportunities are different, but still very meaningful. In-person Junior Coaches now lead games for their peers because they can’t work with younger students. Virtual Junior Coaches pop into virtual classrooms to lead games for younger students!
  • Some schools have added MORE recess to their schedule, so students can have more mask breaks. This means that some educators are leading recess for the first time, and they need new training and support. This has given the Playworks team increased opportunities to build skills in and connection with educators who didn’t step on the playground until this year.

Undoubtedly, there will be more to learn and we will have to continue to evolve our approach, but if we stay aligned on the importance of play, we will still be able to get all the benefits of play despite the challenges we face.

More Updates


March 25, 2021

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