Making Recess Work

Lori Zanteson

community news

Playworks brings coaches to schools to help structure recess time so that everyone can play. PHOTO BY RAMIN RAHIMIAN

Newton’s first law of motion, “an object in motion tends to stay in motion,” is what you’re looking for in kids on the playground at recess. Old-fashioned fun wrapped up in physical activity is not only essential to kids’ growth and development, it leads to physically active adults. In many schools, recess programs have been shortened or cut altogether, and recess no longer lives up to this ideal.

“Every child should have the opportunity to come out of the classroom and have a break,” says LaVal Brewer, executive director of the Southern California division of Playworks, a nonprofit organization that provides coaching, training and support to help schools make recess a safe and healthy place. Too often, recess periods that are offered are chaotic, making kids frustrated and disrupting learning. “Why are kids coming back to the classroom with so much conflict? There’s no one to help them navigate that open space,” Brewer explains.

Playworks is dedicated to helping by teaching kids the rules of traditional playground games. Playworks coaches also show kids where to play and let them choose what they want to play and with whom. “Everyone gets to play,” says Brewer. “Then we reinforce having fun.” This includes teaching kids to solve conflicts instead of adults solving it for them. “They feel the camaraderie, the winning and losing early on and get better at it when they get older,” says Brewer.

Parents can find out about their child’s playground time by talking with their kids. Ask them what’s happening at recess. What did they play? With whom did they play? “That’s going to be a discovery,” Brewer says. Kids may spend recess in the library or sitting with friends instead of being physically active, engaged and having fun. “Something is preventing them from playing,” Brewer says.

If your child’s recess is not as productive as it could be, or if some children are sidelined and not playing, it may need to be restructured so all kids can play. Talk to your school principal about creating or redesigning a playground environment and culture where kids can have fun and be physically active.

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