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A Multimillion Grant to Repurpose Recess

playworks.jpg

When kids cut loose at recess, conflicts are bound to arise. Playworks aims to help.

The national nonprofit has set its sights on overhauling recess, making it a more organized, less conflict-ridden time where kids can blow off steam without getting into trouble. The group is currently teaching more than a million kids in 2,500 high-need schools nationwide to play games like Hula Hoop Four Square and Charades Tag to get them moving and Fishbowl to practice cooperation.

Kids can also learn to resolve disagreements (Whose turn is it? Who gets to go first? Is the ball in or out?) with a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors.

"It's quite magical when you see it happen," said Angela Rogensues, executive director of Playworks Michigan, in an interview. "The kids accept the game's outcome because the result is by chance."

Now, thanks to a $4.5 million grant from Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, Playworks can expand opportunities for purposeful play to more than 130,000 kids in 350 schools in southeast Michigan and western New York. The areas receiving the grants reflect Wilson's devotion to his hometown of Detroit, as well as to Buffalo, N.Y., the home of the Buffalo Bills football team he owned. 

Playworks' organized approach to recess produces positive benefits, according to some research. A study by researchers at Stanford University and Mathematica Policy Research examined 25 schools in five cities during the 2010-11 school year and found that the program cut down on bullying and smoothed the transition between recess and class time, leaving teachers with more time to spend on instruction. What's more, teachers in participating schools reported that their students felt safer and more included at recess, compared with students at schools without the program.

But school administrators in some districts find recess difficult to squeeze into a schedule packed with academics. Peter DeWitt, a former elementary school principal turned educational consultant, goes so far as to call recess a near endangered species, the lack of which is contributing to a mental health crisis in this country. Unlike the Playworks model of organized play however, DeWitt recommends "one hour or more of recess and self-directed play every day" with adults intervening in emergencies only.

But Rogensues says educators often describe recess as the time of the day where a lot of disciplinary actions and injuries happen. What's more, kids aren't playing together as much, nor are teachers engaging with the kids. That's why Rogensues says it's important for the adults to get involved in the games and direct them to a certain extent. She says the more adults are modeling what it looks like to engage in safe and healthy play, the better.

"Playgrounds get transformed into these beautiful places where kids are smiling and laughing and taking turns," said Rogensues.

Photo: Courtesy of Playworks


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