The Power of Play

I recently came across a not-for-profit group called “Playworks.” This group provides coaches to public schools in underprivileged neighborhoods to help make recess a better experience. Here’s what they write on their website:

For many elementary school principals, recess is the toughest part of the day. That’s when all the trouble starts—the teasing, fighting, bullying, injuries, referrals and suspensions. This video demonstrates the “before and after” effect when safe, fun playtime is introduced in the schoolyard. A trained Playworks coach teaches and runs games designed to build leadership and foster teamwork. As a result, kids are more physically active, and principals and teachers consistently credit Playworks for transforming not just the playground and but the entire school learning environment.

Playworks is to be commended for its innovation. While Playworks focuses on underprivileged neighborhoods, the problem they address is present in many elementary and middle schools. When young children who have not yet learned mature interactions are left alone at recess, their worst tendencies come out. Uncorrected, recess can easily degenerate into a dreaded period of bullying, harassment and free-for-all. Many students who transfer to LePort, even those from reputable public elementary schools, comment on similar bad recess experiences.

This is why we have implemented a similar approach to our recesses, and there is no reason that other schools can’t follow suit by putting into practice their own equivalent in-house programs. At LePort, we craft a safe, positive recess environment for our elementary and middle school students. Our teachers take the lead to organize games with the children. The children don’t have to join in, but we find that 9 times out of 10 they want to and are invited to by the other children. Even the shyest kids learn to interact positively when they can join in an activity and be part of a team that takes the pressure and attention off of the interaction. Meanwhile, our teachers are on the lookout for opportunities to encourage positive problem resolution, nudge children to develop their independence, and enforce a respectful tone in student interactions.

Done right, recess integrates seamlessly with the elementary and middle school learning experience. In the words of one of our parents, it’s when students learn to be “gracious winners, good losers.” It’s when students test out social skills, make friendships, and discover the consequences, good and bad, of their behaviors with others, peers and adults alike.

A school that takes personal development seriously needs to embrace recess as the unique learning opportunity it in fact is, and make it part of a thoughtfully prepared school environment.