What happens when an adult steps onto the recess playground with new rules and a game list in hand that reads “Animal Tag,” “Four Square Volleyball,” and “Basketball Bowling?”
Two elementary schools in the Minneapolis area, in the town of Edina, have gone from the usual “on duty” recess supervisor to hiring a recess consultant. As part of a new strategy, kids are now coached through play at recess.
Nonprofit Playworks has partnered with the Edina schools this fall for a test run of a program designed to reduce injuries and bullying on the playground.
“It is designed to give students a chance to have an inclusive experience during recess and not an exclusive one and to use adults to help students work through conflict resolution issues,” Edina School District spokesperson Susan Brott told KSTP TV5.
Over 900 schools in 23 cities have implemented a Playworks program.
In Minnesota, Playworks started to train “recess coaches” five years ago and currently has them in 10 Minnesota school districts.
“[The kids] might not have the skills, they might not have the ability, they might not feel welcome,” Playworks Minnesota Program Manager Todd Wallace told CBS Minnesota. “So we try to make sure every kid feels like they belong out at recess by providing them with those choices to get involved.”
Chris Holden, principal at Normandale Elementary in Edina, noted to the Minneapolis Star Tribune that fewer students have made trips to the principal’s and nurse’s offices after recess this school year.
“Our experience is that diminishing opportunities for unsupervised play in our society have left kids with a very thin understanding of how to manage their own play and that it is important to have grown-ups introduce some basic rules to make play work,” the Playworks website states.
The children at recess may have a different opinion.
Fourth-grade Liam has been part of the pilot program in Edina at Concord Elementary.
“He feels like that’s not playing anymore,” his mother Caroline Correia told the Star Tribune.
The kids are given the option to play in organized games with the recess coach or to create their own inclusive game on the playground. The recess coaches also try to get kids to settle down at the end of recess, for a “smooth transition” back into the classroom.
“What it’s leaving these kids without is an opportunity to have time to grow into a problem solver, to deal with conflict, and to really have an opportunity to go out, bust out of those doors and be free,” Edina parent Lee Blum told KARE11. “My son should have time to just go out and play, climb a tree if he wants to, play soccer, play hockey.
At Concord Elementary, 177 parents signed a petition in opposition to the new recess program.
“Has there ever been a better illustration of bloated school bureaucracy?” Lindsey Burke, a fellow in education at The Heritage Foundation, asked The Daily Signal. “Public schools lament what they claim is a lack of financial resources, yet are directing taxpayer dollars to ‘recess consultants.’”
The two elementary schools in Edina spent $30,000 over the summer to have staff trained in new techniques to be used at recess. Schools hiring Playworks use school district tax dollars or grant money to fund the program.
“What ails American education isn’t about money; it’s about who gets to control dollars,” Burke continued. “Until parents can direct dollars to options that work well for their children—until they can vote with their feet—the public education system will continue to receive dollars and students no matter how poorly it performs, or how inefficiently it spends.”
The school board in Edina, along with parent input, will evaluate the program at the end of the year.