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Playworks on the Yard

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I want to share some great news about a new program we are employing on the yard during recess. Rebecca Kroll, Assistant Head of School, writes below about some new techniques we're trying this year to improve the recess experience for all.

Footballs fly, hoops circle, balls bounce, kids zoom, feet pump back and forth, make-believe worlds are created and secret fairy houses are built. The CDS yard is a magical place, and often, a perfectly peaceful scene of exuberant activity.

Sometimes, however, activities clash. Kids collide. Feelings are hurt. Rules are broken.  

Our work is to help students develop the skills to navigate these inevitable conflicts in positive and productive ways. And as lifelong learners, our faculty chose to participate in a workshop this summer to improve our skills in facilitating recess on the CDS yard to be the best it can be.

To that end we invited in Playworks, a Bay Area nonprofit dedicated to making recess a positive and productive time for all kids (see more on Playworks below).

This workshop has given us a tremendous amount to think about, and we're excited to pilot several new techniques immediately. We appreciate your patience and feedback as we begin!

1) With huge appreciation to our PE teachers, we now have a well-stocked shed, beautifully organized and labeled and full of brand new recess equipment. Students have access to this equipment under adult supervision and are expected to return the materials to their correct locations at the end of each recess. We are thrilled to see them taking such great care of our shared materials!

2) "Peace on Earth" (aka "take a knee") is now our signal for a yard-wide freeze. It is used at the end of recess time. A teacher will sound our new gong and announce "Peace!" withtwo fingers raised in a peace sign. The kids respond in a chorus of "on earth!" and bring their own two-fingered peace signs down to the blacktop in a crouching or sitting position. Adults can then give instructions to the silent crowd and dismiss groups of kids to return yard equipment and head to lunch.

3) Our different divisions have come together to map the yard for recess games and establish game rotations. We've moved tag to the blacktop (and off the structure) and established areas for 4-square, jump ropes and hula hoops, as well as rotating games of wall ball, soccer, basketball, football, etc.

4) The PE teachers are spending the first weeks of school teaching the rules to common recess games, and teaching some great techniques of good sportspersonship as well. We are coaching the kids on some fantastic new techniques including "Rock-it-out!", "Dynasty," "Recycle Line" and "Good job!/High fives."

5) We have hired an Assistant Lower School PE Teacher, the phenomenal Chris Williams. Starting the third week of September, Chris will begin taking groups of kids over to the Boys & Girls Club yard during lunch recess to play organized games in a dedicated space. These games will run on M/W/Th for 2nd/3rd/4th grades and T/F for K/1.

 

About Playworks (from www.playworks.org):

Principals tell us that just about all discipline-related problems in school occur during lunch and recess. Instead of going back to class energized and ready to learn, the kids return to class upset and unable to focus.

We can change this. Recess should be fun and energetic and safe and inclusive for everyone. Isn't that what we want for all kids in elementary school today?

When recess becomes a healthy, fun and active part of the school day, kids carry that positive experience with them beyond the playground.

On our playgrounds, everyone plays, everyone belongs, everyone contributes to the game. Coaches encourage kids to bring out the best in themselves and each other, and kids learn the value of fair play, compassion and respect.

On our playgrounds, kids become leaders, they might become junior coaches. They run their own games and settle their disputes quickly – (rock-paper-scissors is our problem solver) – because getting along is more fun than fighting.

On our playgrounds, kids play hard, cheer loud and high five until their hands sting. And they carry that feeling of peace and belonging to their classrooms, back to their neighborhoods, out into the world.

A randomized controlled trial of Playworks found that the program reduced bullying, improved feelings of safety, increased physical activity, and provided more time for classroom teaching. The research raises the possibility that what happens at recess can affect a school's learning environment in important ways, and that improving recess may enable schools to address a number of pressing issues at the same time.