Woodland Public Schools introduces innovative techniques to make recess socially-inclusive and supportive for all students

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Woodland's Primary and Intermediate Schools received specialized training to make recess fun, safe, energetic, and supportive to a healthy student culture for all kids. Woodland Public Schools Parent-Teacher-Student Association (PTSA) provided funds to bring in Playworks, a national nonprofit organization specializing in redesigning recess time, to provide training to school administrators, teachers, and playground staff in order to create a more inclusive environment for all students.

Woodland Primary and Intermediate Schools participated in specialized training to create the ideal recess experience for students.
Woodland Primary and Intermediate Schools participated in specialized training to create the ideal recess experience for students.

Studies show that recess contributes strongly to overall student development. "Recess is one of the only free times in a student's school day," explained Tara Doherty, an Associate Trainer for Playworks. "In addition, studies reveal that linking positive physical play helps with intellectual learning; students learn about social interaction and conflict resolution during recess."

Steve Carney, Principal of Woodland Intermediate School, discovered Playworks at a Positive Behavior and Interventional and Supports (PBIS) conference last year. "Members of our PBIS teams had the opportunity to experience a day of training with Playworks, and we realized how valuable this training could be for Woodland's schools," said Carney. "Our students have little to do during recess, so our number one priority was to implement new approaches, expectations, and games for recess time."

Playworks trainers helped Woodland staff and administrators develop a plan for the ideal recess experience at each school.
Playworks trainers helped Woodland staff and administrators develop a plan for the ideal recess experience at each school.

Playworks trainers spent two days with Woodland staff and administrators to help develop a plan for the ideal recess. Participants included a teacher from each grade level, each school's Physical Education teachers, and every paraprofessional with a role in supervising recess. "We believe in the power of play bringing out the best in every kid," said Doherty. "We help staff design a plan for recess where all kids can participate while learning social and cultural development skills."

Recess plans include games that involve every student and allow each student to take part regardless of their skill level in a game. For example, a special kind of basketball called Three-Line Basketball rotates three separate lines of players into the game depending on which team scores, ensuring all students get a chance to play. "This version of basketball is a lot more accessible because every student has the opportunity to play instead of just the strongest players," said Doherty. "The staff enlists student leaders to watch over each game and ensure the rules are followed so each student participates." Playworks provides a wide variety of games including Switch, a variation of four-square; Sprout Tag, where students take place in group tag; and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish which is a variation of Red Light, Green Light; among many, many others.

Over the course of the two-day training, the Playworks trainers worked with Woodland staff to help design core values and expectations for the students. The core values include respecting each other; inclusion of all students; healthy play that encourages exercise and activity; and a healthy community where students include and support one another. "A recess design plan envisions an ideal recess," explained Doherty. "We help identify the basics to guide the staff to design their own plan and also play the different games to demonstrate how to create games that are respectful and inclusive instead of competitive."

In addition, the staff creates expectations for students which are posted in recess areas so students know the rules of recess as well as the consequences for breaking those rules. Rules are global, simple, and positive with consequences being respectful, reasonable, related, and revealed in advance. After developing the ideal recess plan, Playworks trainers actually played different games with the participating staff and administrators to demonstrate how to create recess games that include all students in cooperative environments with minimal competition.

Following the implementation of ideal recess plans, Playworks' schools see a decrease in bullying, an increase in the amount of physical activity minutes for students, and improved student leadership as student leaders are recruited to help set up games, keep games positive, and cheer on their classmates. "The team was very excited by what they learned during the training," said Dr. Juliann McCarthy, Principal of Woodland Primary School. "Our team believes the new approaches to recess will strengthen our efforts to teach positive behaviors at both schools."

Staff participants actually played the games introduced by Playworks to learn how to properly implement the new style of play at each school.
Staff participants actually played the games introduced by Playworks to learn how to properly implement the new style of play at each school.

Many members of the team were surprised by some of the new approaches to recess. "I didn't realize recess was so much more than just playing games," said Tiffany Wear, the PBIS Intervention Specialist at Woodland Primary School. "Recess can be about finding fun, energizing ways to not only play, but also to engage children and teach them new skills."

"The training did not disappoint," agreed Sandy Owens, PBIS Intervention Specialist at Woodland Intermediate School. "Our new recess plan creates a place for every kid on the playground to feel included, be active, and build both social and emotional skills resulting in recess that will be a positive school experience for every child."

The Playworks training was made possible thanks to funding provided the Woodland Public School's PTSA organizations. "Our PTSA funded the majority of the costs associated with training and implementing Playworks," said Carney. "I definitely want to say thank you to our incredibly supportive PTSA!"

The Playworks mission is to improve the health and well-being of children by increasing opportunities for physical activity and safe, meaningful play. Playworks currently serves more than 1,200 schools across the United States and reaches more than 700,000 students directly and through professional training services.

For more information, visit the Playworks website at www.playworks.org.