Recess can feel like a break for principals and students, a chance to step back and let kids do their thing. But when adults are actively engaged on a playground, good things happen. Adults foster students’ sense of trust and belonging, modeling behavior students may not always see at home. And schools with support systems in place — when the climate is safe, stimulating, and nurturing — are 10 times more likely to have gains in reading and math scores.*

What’s the norm for adults on your playground? If your recess staff are standing on the sidelines yelling instructions, or only show up to say it’s time to go inside — ask them to get in the game.

When adults play, we share our humanity with kids, making play more accessible, and helping children feel safer. This is true for kids who choose to play games led by adults, and for kids who spend recess engaging in free- or imaginative-play. This new way of interacting, outside of the classroom, improves relationships between students and adults.

Here are 6 ways adults can get off the sidelines and into the game:

  • Play games with kids! Kids are eager to play with their teachers and recess staff. Remember to model play even when the activity isn’t your *best* game. When students see adults trying and failing, they get the message it’s OK to make mistakes.
  • Check in with kids not participating. Ask what game a student wants to play or why a student is unwilling to try a game. We never want to force students to play, but simple questions can help break down challenges students are having on the playground.
  • Have a variety of games available. Creating a space for every student on the playground takes some planning. Kids with different skills, interests, and abilities need options. And same goes for adults — if you’re not up for an athletic game, cheering kids on or turning the rope count as positive interactive play.
  • Maintain a healthy level of competition. When a game is too competitive it can be unsafe or intimidating. Adults can help modify games as needed. If a tag game is moving too quickly, modify the game! Instead of running, ask students to move in a silly way — “like a zombie” or “skip.”
  • Introduce games where students can jump into a line to join, instead of only games with continuous play and no breaks. Games can feel unwelcoming when students have to ask to get into the game, or when the play doesn’t pause for new kids to join.
  • Just say “No” to captains. Picking teams can be scary for students. Adult intervention when picking teams can take the anxiety out of joining the game. Rather than students choosing teams by friends and skill levels, adults can form teams in a fun way, by shoe colors or counting off “apples and oranges.”

What you can try this week:

  • Ask your adult recess leaders to try out a game they don’t normally participate in.
  • Share these tips with your adult recess staff and ask for feedback or other best practices based on their experience at your school.
  • Get aligned on roles and expectations for adults on the playground for every recess.

I encourage my students to play the games that they have learned during recess and at home. I join them during recess time to show them that it is great to have these games in our school.

Teacher, Alta E. Butler School, Arizona. July 2017

*The Missing Piece, CASEL (Bridgeland, Bruce, Hariharen, 2013, p.22), The Impact of a Multi-Component Physical Activity Programme (Massey et al, 2017, p.9).

Join the Game Checklist

Playground games encourage adult participation. Print out this guide for your Recess Team to make sure everyone feels welcome and included.

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