Guest Blogger: Non-profit Recess Company

My name is Jill Vialet and I’m the founder of Playworks (http://www.playworks.org/), a national non-profit that focuses on making recess a great part of the school day.  We do this by both sending our Recess Coaches into low income elementary schools and by offering training to other grown-ups who work with kids on our approach to making recess a time when kids get to play and be physically active and that enhances the school climate – making it easier for teachers to teach and students to learn.  I think we’re a little like WD40 for school climate.

Playworks is in the midst of opening in 6 new cities and we’re in the thick of our Recess Rollout season – basically when Playworks coaches from other cities travel to a new city to model our program at 7-8 low income elementary schools so that principals and other members of the community can really get the flavor – imagine a do-gooder version of MTV’s the Real World. 
We were in Denver a couple of weeks ago, and I got this note from the assistant principal at the school about their experience with Coach Ann (our Playworks staffer based at their school for the week) – it said “I just wanted to send this along to you – a 4th grade student who rarely gets involved in recess activity and is known to be a wallflower came to my office with this note and a huge smile on her face. High five for the work you guys are doing, here at AXL this week with Coach Ann, but also on a daily basis across the country. Coach Ann has been an incredible addition to the team (literally she feels like part of the staff and its only been a few days) and the kids are raving about her. “
So here’s the note from Jasmine, the 4th grader, entitled We heart Coach Ann (it had typos, but I edited). 
Dear Ms. Miller,
Our class likes Coach Ann for many reasons.  First, she is nice and has many creative ideas to keep kids healthy. Also, she is respectful to students and loves to have fun. Finally, she plays games where people don’t fight and makes sure there is no drama.  Well, these are many reasons why our school should have Coach Ann or people like her for our school.
Sincerely, Jasmine
PS  Thank you for having Coach Ann here at school.
And Jasmine attached a really cool sticker.
I’ve never met Coach Ann – she’s based in our Silicon Valley office, and this is her first year with us.  I’m not a big crier – but when I got this, I teared up. Here was this young woman, off in a strange city who completely owns – as her own-  this vision I originally had of making it possible for every kid in America to get to play every day.  And in turn, she’s inspiring Jasmine to step up and advocate for something she wants and believes in. 
We feel really lucky to get to work with teachers and lunch ladies and families and principals all over the country.  We are excited about the idea of recess before lunch.  And maybe most importantly, we are hopeful that giving kids like Jasmine a chance to play every day is the best hope we have for building an engaged citizenry that stands up for things like great education and a yummy, healthy school lunch program.
twitter: @jillvialet
twitter: @playworksusa

*** Thanks Jill for contributing a guest post. I am particularly interested in Playworks as my school has no recess. Who knows, maybe we can work something out for the future! ***

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15 Responses to Guest Blogger: Non-profit Recess Company

  1. JaniceNJ May 3, 2010 at 12:15 pm #

    Your school has no recess, Mrs. Q? I do think kids need some time during the school day to run, jump, be loud, and, well, be kids! Our kids have 20 minutes of recess after their 20 minute lunch. I'd prefer it be before lunch, but I won't complain. I didn't realize that some schools had done away with recess altogether!

  2. JGold May 3, 2010 at 3:24 pm #

    I've read a little on Playworks, and I'm really impressed with what they do. It's really great to see a healthy, friendly, active recess as an alternative to kids just standing around or fighting during recess (if they get it at all).

    But I don't think we should discount the benefits of unstructured recess as free time for kids to learn and practice social rules on their own, and make up their own games. When you have an adult too involved with recess and leading activities, you don't get any of the other stuff. I wonder if the Playworks coaches could also provide starting points for kids to develop their own games, so the program could sustain itself and take on a life of its own without the Playworks coaches.

  3. Tameson May 3, 2010 at 3:37 pm #

    You have got to be kidding! A recess coach? Give me a break. We feed our kids crap. We have them fill out forms instead of any sort of critical thinking. Crafts are pre-assembled kits and stay inside the lines coloring pages. They aren't allowed to interact with other children in any but the most sanitized of situations and now they can't even play without a coach? So what happens when these kids grow up to be adults. How on earth do we expect them to be creative troubleshooting adults if that can't get those skills while they are young. Frankly, I'd rather my kid not have recess than have to be coached to play. My kids are lucky though. We have recess until they start high school, and the kids are allowed to play on their own.

  4. Anonymous May 3, 2010 at 4:19 pm #

    Sounds like a great organization! It is also a bit sad that kids don't know how to play with others. So many of the students I have are involved in organized sports (which is great) but they started pee-wee sports so young that they never really just "play play" without organized rules or games. We have a 20 minute recess with lunch, plus grades K-4 have another short 10 minute recess built into their schedules (5 and 6 only get lunch recess), but even these recesses have a list of approved games that can be played and a list of non-approved games. Teachers try their best to encourage healthy play and we often take up precious academic time to discuss things that happen on the playground, but there is never enough hours in the school day.

  5. K2 May 3, 2010 at 9:15 pm #

    Mrs. Q, how do you handle not having recess? I don't know how old your students are, but the after lunch hours with my first graders have been a struggle all year long. I'm a new teacher, but I've never heard of a school without recess before I started working at my school.

  6. Notorious Nick May 3, 2010 at 10:03 pm #

    No recess? That's the worst thing I've ever heard. Recess was one of the biggest parts that went into making elementary enjoyable.

  7. Megan May 3, 2010 at 11:11 pm #

    I've looked at Playworks' website, and what they do is more what I think physical education should be at the elementary level. When I was in school we had P.E. every day through elementary school and then alternated with health in middle and the first two years of HS. I guess it's good that we had P.E. every day, but 80 percent of it was playing an organized team sport. I was one of the ones who was uncoordinated and unathletic and was always picked last for the team. I tried to stand in the back and not get in the way. Because I was thin, nobody worried that I wasn't getting exercise. And what I came away with after 10 years of this was a low self-esteem in connection to physical activities and a reluctance to try new things. There needs to be more emphasis on making exercise fun for all kids, regardless of ability, and I think Playworks sounds like it could do that. But recess should be unstructured time on an age-appropriate playground, especially once the kids have learned in P.E. how to create their own fun.

  8. Sandman May 4, 2010 at 12:38 am #

    Hmm… I applaud the enthusiasm of the folks at Playworks and I think they have the kids' best interests at heart, but I'm also of the mind that kids need unstructured play time too. They need to learn to use their imaginations to dream up games and how to entertain themselves. Becoming dependent on an adult to do everything for them I think is a bad thing in the long term.

    …and I can't imagine young kids sitting at a desk all day and not getting any kind of recess. That's just mean!

  9. Prince Andrew and the Queen Mum May 4, 2010 at 1:05 am #

    Jill
    I just had a discussion w/ a friend the other day on how recess doesn't need to be 'led.' and on one had i get that but on the other there are so many places that could help. i pulled my son out of school for a lot of reasons. But one area that needs so much attention is special needs, specifically autism, where kids have IEPs to meet all the educational goals but then are left to fend for themselves on the playground. My son was only in preschool but I saw him (as I was spying from the parking lot) over in the corner with himself while the playground folks chatted amongst themselves. And maybe that is their downtime- I hold nothing against them- but this type of 'intervention' was needed. I wonder…do you do that sort of thing? It would be great for parents to put this sort of service into an IEP but the playground folks involved in this woudl probably need additional training.

  10. Anonymous May 4, 2010 at 1:05 am #

    I was curious about the philosophy on recess before lunch..My school tried it for a year, but went back to playing after lunch. Kids were filthy, sweaty messes as they made their way through the lunch line and noone ever checked that they washed up before going back to their classes for academics. With recess after lunch, kids have the opportunity to go to the bathroom and wash-up … two bells, and it gives them a chance to burn off some energy (from the highly-processed lunches)before heading back to class. Just curious.

  11. Mrs. Q May 4, 2010 at 1:07 am #

    It might seem silly that there is a need for a (non-profit) recess company, but as I can attest too many schools don't prioritize time for free play or recess. If a formalized approach is what it takes to wake up school administrations to the need for recess, that's fine with me.

    Keep in mind that the "recess coach" is there only for one year. After showing how beneficial recess can be for kids, they move on leaving recess in their wake. Maybe they better conceptualized as recess "fairies" who use their magic wands to give recess to schools without it!

  12. KatNip69 May 4, 2010 at 3:21 am #

    Recess…. I always wondered why they chose THAT name for playtime!

    Falto a mis chicas!

  13. Bella May 5, 2010 at 11:05 am #

    I never fail to be surprised and confused when the issue of recess and play time comes up.

    Here in Australia, all the way through school from kindergarten to Grade 12, kids get about 20 minutes break in mid morning, which we call recess, and almost an hour for lunch.

    Most schools have a canteen, where kids can buy food at recess and lunch, but the majority of kids bring a packed lunch from home – that's the norm here, most schools don't provide subsidised lunch programs, and I've never seen a school with a cafeteria system the US.

    My memories of school (I'm 24, so I haven't been out for all that long!) are of recess spent mostly playing, maybe eating the snack I had packed in my lunch box – a muesli bar, piece of fruit, or a small tub of yogurt. Lunch time was the same. We would go outside, sit somewhere in the playground, eat lunch with our friends, then go and play for the rest of the time. On rainy days you might be allowed to eat inside, but otherwise students HAD to be outside during recess and lunch times.

    High school recess and lunch breaks were less active – some people would kick around a ball, but my friends and I would generally just walk around the school grounds and chat together, sometimes catch up on homework if we needed to.

    Incidentally, in primary school we also had some kind of physical activity most days of the week, in addition to structured PE classes. One year I had a teacher who took the class for a walk every morning, another year a teacher who had us play a game of cricket every day.

    I can't imagine having to work all the way through to lunch time, then be herded like cattle through a cafeteria, with barely enough time to eat, and no time to play or relax. It sounds awful to me, almost like a prison.

    I never realised how good I had it until now!

  14. Abby May 6, 2010 at 5:06 am #

    As a high school student, it makes me so so sad to see that children have to be taught how to play.

    We're so focused on making kids into test taking machines and getting them ready for "the real world", that giving them time to be kids is forgotten.

    The people that run this country forget how they grew up- with unlimited play time. The rule was be home for dinner, little Johnny.. we've all seen the movies.

    Why do they think that making children grow up in a vacuum packed and hermetically sealed environment is going to make them function as adults..?

    I had recess as an elementary schooler, a 10 min morning break/ 45 minute lunch in middle school, and now that's been cut down to a 2 min morning break/30min lunch in high school with no free periods.

    I swear, I'm on the verge of a midlife crisis already with all this stress.

    Kids are kids. Let them be.

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