At University School of Milwaukee, recess is much more than an outlet to burn off extra energy. With help from the experts at Playworks, a nonprofit organization that uses the power of play to bring out the best in every child, recess is an opportunity to improve cognitive, academic, social, emotional, and physical outcomes.
Lower School teachers and students at USM have spent the past week working with Courtney Gonnering, a regional partnership manager from Playworks, to learn how to form and strengthen trusting friendships and relationships with others through collaborative play.
“Before our work with Courtney, we found that some games at recess could become quite competitive and arguments could spill over into class time,” said Kelley Sovol, 4th grade teacher. “The new games that we’ve learned are much more collaborative and fast-paced, and they’re really easy for anyone to start playing, even if they haven’t played them before.”
In the new recess format, the playground is divided up into several different zones of dedicated games, including tag, four-square, hula-hoops, and basketball, among others. Students can choose whichever game they want to play, and move freely throughout as they want. They learn to settle disputes among themselves using the “Rochambeau” method, otherwise known as rock, paper, scissors, to keep the game moving quickly and maintain a collaborative atmosphere.
Older students can apply to participate in the junior coach program to serve as leaders on the playground. Junior coaches help to support their young peers, set up and put away equipment, explain rules of the games, and moderate disagreements when needed.
“We know that when students feel physically and emotionally safe, they are more likely to try something new, take healthy risks, and build trust with other students and adults,” said Mary Liz Rogers, 3rd grade teacher and USM liaison with Playworks. “With this new format, the playground is a natural extension of our classrooms, with the added benefit of play. The response from students and teachers has been overwhelmingly positive.”