Playworks Makes Recess Awesome

Jill Vialet of Playworks made everyone at Mom Congress do some crazy things. Climb a ladder, swing in a swing, and some other silly movements. Even though I felt silly, it was fun to be moving and got me ready to learn.

Vialet founded Playworks to focus on recess. It hires and trains people to go into low-income schools to bring in awesome recesses for kids every day in over 60,000 public elementary schools. The Playworks coaches organize games and activities during recess, beginning with teaching rules of games to basic recess games. Why? Because most kids don’t really know the rules of every game, think they do, and disagreements ensue.

Why Recess Matters

Daily recess improves classroom behavior.

If kids are fit, they are more likely to learn. (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, September 2007.)

Physical activity improves attention.

Amazing recess at your school

First of all, this is going to be up to YOU and the people you can rally around you. You can do this and here’s what Vialet suggests.

1. Talk to the school principal. Lead with empathy and love because principals are just at their wits end. You could say something like, “Hey, I noticed recess is bumpy and that makes it hard for your teachers. I’d like to help.”

2. Teach everyone at your school “Rock, Paper, Scissors” – classroom teachers, kids, parents – and use it to solve problems.

3. Map the school yard. You want to think in the most hopeful terms of how would the playground flow look? This is where free play would happen, this is where basketball would happen, and so forth.

4. See if you can convince the principal to work with some small groups to teach kids rules to games – 4 square and kickball – they think they know but they don’t. Vialet explains this, “When we were growing up, the older kids taught us and learned the culture of play from other kids. Now, kids have play dates and they’re not with older kids.” This means they aren’t learning the rules to the games.

5. You can put the kids in charge of recess, says Vialet. It is the single best opportunity for really giving kids their own responsibility as learners and creates more engagement. She suggests we make a concerted effort to identify the leaders (not always for good,) give them a whistle and purple shirt and put them in charge of balls. Then, they are yours.

6. Play yourself. I know it sounds like there is so much to do. It’s hard to remember to breathe and play. But, Vialet says that with kids who aren’t engaged in recess,  the number one thing that gets them to play at recess is seeing the grown ups play. Kids can see themselves in you when they get to play with you.

“I think it’s important to think about play in schools,” says Vialet, “and what it means about us as a society where play isn’t a part of every day.”

Learn more

Playworks might already be in your city. Check here.

Training programs from Playworks are here.

Find the rules to playground games here.

I hadn’t heard of this program before Mom Congress. Has anyone? What do you like about it?

What does this program make you think about play? about recess?

And, I’m totally using the Rock, Paper, Scissors technique for problem solving! What an excellent idea, don’t you think?


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  1. says

    Thank you so much for sharing this on It’s Playtime! It kind of shocks me to see what has changed in recess – I’m not a teacher and don’t have kids old enough yet – so I’m sure it’ll be even more of a shock when they are older!

    I shared this on FB and also on the We Teach Bodies To Move group – I think this is an excellent read with lots great information to get everyone thinking about what they can do to help make recess a more active/enjoyable environment!



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