Recess 101: The art of play

A few Cherry Creek Schools have implemented Recess Facilitation Programs in an effort to reduce bullying

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Recess is making a comeback in some Cherry Creek Schools. During a time of reduced playtime at school, virtual Wii sports, and structured after-school competitive teams, recess has become an afterthought. The days of four-square, kickball and hopscotch seem to be long gone.

But not at Cherry Hills Village, Cottonwood Creek and High Plains Elementary Schools. Parents, teachers and administrators have “taken back” the playground and are making it a place where group games and peer collaboration are encouraged. Through a non-profit “Connect Us,” the schools have implemented Recess Facilitation Programs, which train staff and parent volunteers to guide organized games at recess, where children of all backgrounds and abilities have the opportunity to partake in a variety of group activities.

Stephanie Schiff, Executive Director of Connect Us, says, “so many of our kids struggle to navigate the unstructured playground environment and as we all know, it doesn’t get any easier in middle school. We need to recognize that playgrounds create significant learning opportunities …where kids learn to collaborate, accept others’ strengths and weaknesses, negotiate rules and take turns. The support that play facilitators provide, make it possible for so many children to develop these critical life skills.”

Studies show that bullying, injuries and disputes decrease when children are engaged in purposeful play at recess. Schiff says “a strong recess program reduces competitive intensity, rough play, aggressive behaviors, injuries and susceptibility to being or becoming a bully. Through facilitated play, we empower children in early childhood to embrace differences, stand up for themselves and others and ultimately, create a respectful, inclusive recess environment.”  The Cherry Creek School District has taken many measures to reduce bullying at schools, such as Bully Awareness programs and surveys to measure bullying in schools. But a few schools, like Cherry Hills Village, have taken it a step further, by adopting Recess Facilitation Programs, where kids learn, first-hand, how to handle disputes and cooperate through play. “This leads to a more productive classroom environment,” Schiff says, “because arguments and conflict are resolved on the playground, and not carried over into the classroom.”

Natalie Morris, a 2 ndgrade teacher at Cottonwood Creek Elementary School, claims “parent volunteers are trained to help children quickly resolve conflicts, find friends who are alone, and offer guidance to those students who tend to dominate group activities. The outcome has been a reduction in bullying…less tattling and a faster transition to instruction time.”

Cottonwood Creek parent volunteer, Lisa Ovando, says: “It was so rewarding to see one of the shyest girls in 3rd grade finally participating in a game after we’d been out there a few weeks. We made it a safe and fair place for her to play and the more she played, the more her self-confidence began to soar. This could possibly change the isolated direction in which she appeared to be heading. Without recess facilitation, I’m pretty sure she would still be roaming around the playground by herself.”

Stacy Maclean, parent volunteer at High Plains Elementary says, “This has changed the whole culture at our school. Now we have children who were always alone, children who used to dominate games and children that everyone gets along with, all playing a game of four-square together, developing bonds and communication skills that will carry over long after recess is over.”

Connect Us in a nonprofit organization whose mission is to instill the skills in preschool and elementary-age children that are necessary to becoming socially competent, self-confident and resilient individuals throughout their lives.   In addition to its Recess Facilitation programs, Connect Us offers summer camp and facilitated, after-school social groups, designed to develop communication, problem-solving and leadership skills through the spontaneity of play .

For more information on Connect Us, or how your school can implement a Recess Facilitation Program, or call 303-773-3960.