Back to school, back to recess

It’s back to school time, and while this generally inspires thoughts of classrooms and indoor learning, back to school also means back to recess, and all the learning that is made possible outdoors and while kids are playing.

At Playworks, we spend a part of every fall helping teachers learn skills that leverage kids’ natural desire to play. Recess represents an important, and often overlooked, opportunity to help kids develop their own natural leadership, to grow more comfortable in making mistakes in the pursuit of mastery, and for practical experience in helping develop skills around empathy, conflict resolution, and managing group dynamics.

And while the goal of creating play opportunities should always emphasize opportunities that kids both choose and self-direct, there are some important roles grown-ups can play in norming a healthy environment.

Image from Ashoka/Playworks.
  1. Teach RoShamBo. One of the first things adults can do to build an inclusive and self-directed recess is to teach all the students RoShamBo (or Rock-Paper-Scissors) and to encourage its use recklessly. Having a face-saving tool for conflict resolution means that there’s more time for play, and more energy for the conflicts that really deserve your attention.
  2. Pay attention to transitions. You may have noticed that for both kids and adults, things often break down during transitions. Creating some quick and playful rituals around transitioning from the classroom to the school yard and then transitioning back to class, can help kids be more aware of how they use their voices and bodies, and set them up to succeed.
  3. Get in the Game. When grown-ups are willing to jump into a game of foursquare or tag, the impact is immediate and powerful. Not only do you show the kids another side of yourself, you help them to feel both seen and safe. Grown-ups playing gives permission to kids who might be more reticent to jump in otherwise and your presence – especially if you are actively norming good sporting behaviours (giving high fives, saying “good job!” and “nice try!”) creates a healthy cultural expectation that kids both need and want.

Image from Ashoka/Playworks.

Perhaps most importantly, it turns out that learning these skills at an early age has a lasting impact. Recent research published in the American Journal of Public Health looking at kindergarten social skills over a 20 year period found that kindergarteners with strong social/emotional skills were four times as likely to graduate from college.

It is easy to dismiss the time spent at recess as frivolous and a distraction from the 'real' work of school, but nothing could be further from the truth. The lessons learned during recess are fundamental to building an environment in which effective learning can take place. If we want kids to grow up and becoming the leaders we so desperately need them to become, making sure that Fall is a time of back to recess is absolutely critical.

- This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Please see for more details. 

Ashoka and the LEGO Foundation believe in the need to re-imagine learning and in the importance of play as the best way for children to develop critical skills and engage them as creative changemakers – selecting and supporting the first global network of social innovators to re-imagine learning for the 21st century.

For more information, check out their website, follow them on Twitter with #play2learn and on Facebook. If you or someone you know is re-imagining learning for the 21st century, nominate them here.


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