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playworksPlayworks is designed to create a place for every kid on the playground -- where every kid belongs, has fun and is part of the game.

Playworks provides staff with training and strategies that are being implemented on our playgrounds. Staff are specially trained to lead games that are inclusive and positive for all students. Some games include 4-Square, Capture the Flag, Freeze Tag, Red Light/Green Light and more.

Playworks is designed to not only decrease negative behavior on the playground but also to increase positive behavior in the classroom. According the the annual survey conducted by Playworks in Washington State, staff found an overall increase in cooperation and conflict resolution in students.




Frequently Asked Questions

How did Playworks get started in Bellingham Public Schools?

The philosophy behind Playworks aligns with the Bellingham Promise, supporting the development of healthy, active individuals; leaders, collaborators and team players; effective communicators; respectful and compassionate humans. Playworks was piloted in 2012-13 by five elementary schools through Title I funding. Over time, other principals and school leaders expressed an interest in this approach to recess, and the opportunity expanded to include all schools. At this time, all elementary schools are at different levels of implementation.

Why Playworks? Why change recess?

Recess can be a wonderful break in the day for kids – a time to be silly with friends, to play a competitive game, or to develop a new physical skill. But for some, recess can also be a difficult time – when disagreements arise and some children feel left out of the action.

We are implementing Playworks strategies in elementary schools across Bellingham in order to address safety and inclusion of all students in a positive and proactive way. Playworks strategies seek to create an environment where more students can engage in healthy physical play, and where fun for all becomes more important than winning for a few. There are many aspects of recess that look very similar to recess in past years. Recess zones and games of the week are two examples of Playworks strategies that have brought about positive change.

Our principals and recess supervisors are seeing a decrease in the number of recess incidents that result in office referrals and disciplinary action. In addition, we’re seeing fewer conflicts on the playground that need adult intervention when students return to the classroom, which means that time can be focused on teaching and learning rather than resolving recess conflicts. Perhaps the greatest impact has been for individual students who previously struggled with social dynamics at recess and are now experiencing the benefits of healthy physical activity in an environment that supports inclusion for everyone.

Kids follow structure during the rest of the school day. Don’t they need unstructured time at recess?

Unstructured free time is healthy for growing children, both at home and at school. However, group games, whether they are created and organized by kids on playgrounds or by adult coaches and referees, have some sort of structure. Playworks allows for the creativity of students who dream up a new game and find friends to play along with them. It also allows for the freedom to choose from a wide variety of fun activities.

Playworks does create some structure on the playground as well. This happens through zones that are designated for different types of play, and through the introduction of safe and inclusive rules for certain group games on the playground. We find that the structure for these games helps to create a healthier community and more inclusive environment, while still giving students opportunities for free choice on the playground. Many students never play structured games and spend most of their time on the play equipment or making up their own games. Kids can still even just stand around if they want! However, we find that most kids do want to play, and most of our kids are now coming in from recess happy and sweaty instead of complaining and saying “Recess is boring. There is nothing to do.”

It seems like recess is less competitive with Playworks.

When there are clear, fair rules and equal opportunity, kids can still compete. In the past, games with constantly changing rules (such as 4-square), or rules that only those with extensive experience understood (such as soccer or basketball) meant that a select few children dominated the competition. With clear rules, focused on safety and inclusion, the game can remain competitive in a way that many more students can enjoy. On our playgrounds, you will now see a variety of games – some remain quite competitive, while others are more cooperative, giving students more choices for physical play.

Does Playworks allow students to be creative, take risks, and learn to solve their own problems?

Yes. We want students to take reasonable risks and learn to solve conflicts. Playworks strategies encourage both of these things. We believe that having rules/structures around games, emphasizing fair play and inclusion of all who wish to join in creates a healthy community in which more students can take risks by joining in a game. Playworks strategies include tools to help students resolve their own conflicts and schools with established approaches to conflict-resolution continue to teach those methods within the context of Playworks-style recess. And, at many schools, students are becoming actively involved in designing the games and making up the rules.