Gone are the days of bullies ruling the playground at recess, or boredom in general, as local elementary schools are getting on board with a nationwide program that offers organized, safe play — but most importantly, lots of fun!

When the 2019-2020 school year started at North Park Elementary School in Tremonton, teachers were ready to implement a new recess program called Playworks, which is used by 3.5 million students in thousands of elementary schools across the nation.

The idea first came to Jill Vialet, a principal of an elementary school in Oakland, California in 1995 after meeting with three boys in her office for the third time that week. Sent to her for fighting on the playground, she was tired of seeing the same students in her office and knew they weren’t bad kids, instead, she knew they needed a way to play constructively at recess.

Vialet formed Playworks, a program that allows students during recess to make friends, solve problems and believe in themselves and that success has been proven at North Park. Two teachers at North Park, Hollie Allen and Shaunie Owen, have seen firsthand the positive impact this new program has had on not only their students, but the entire student body.

Box Elder School District implemented the program last year with a few elementary schools piloting the program, including Fielding Elementary.

“They pushed it out to all the elementary schools this year,” Owen said. “It’s to eliminate problems on the playground and to be proactive with a lot of conflict resolution.”

“It’s organized play, not structured play so the kids are forced to do things but we organize it in a way that they can feel comfortable doing it,” Allen added.

Several core games are implemented at North Park which include kickball, football, soccer, wall ball and four square. There’s a new game featured every week, and free time is also offered for students to enjoy playground equipment. For the first two weeks of school every teacher at North Park went out to recess and in their classes to teach the games and the rules.

“All the rules are the same and all the kids know the rules. All the supplies are already out there. It’s organized so kids can feel successful in whatever game we put out there,” Allen said.

“There’s not very many kids standing around doing nothing,” Allen added.

One of the biggest changes teachers have seen with Playworks is conflict resolution.

“One thing that I’ve seen that I really like is the conflict resolution,” Owen said. Teachers have taught students methods of deciding how to resolve conflicts with a game similar to “Rock, Paper, Scissors.” It’s proven to be a big success on the playground and in the classroom.

“The first 10 minutes after break last year I was just dealing with conflict and I don’t have that at all anymore,” Allen said.

Teachers and staff aren’t the only ones loving the new program.

“Most of the kids have loved it,” Allen said about the program. “I’ve seen kids that never play, jump in and play because they feel comfortable and they know the rules and that everybody will play the same way.”

Looking into the future both Allen and Owen are curious to see how today’s younger classes will play when they’re ending their elementary school years.

“It will be fun to see what recess is like then,” Owen said.

The most popular activity?

“I see the older kids loving wall ball,” Allen said. However, when an adult joins in on the fun, that activity quickly becomes the most popular.

When recess is over teachers use a calming-down method, a cheer, to get students ready for the classroom and back to learning.

“Everyone was calmed down and ready to get back to the classroom and learn instead of just trickling in and talking about the conflicts,” Owen said. “It was cool to watch.”

Making the most of this playtime model is simple, to provide a place where students can feel included, be active and build important social and emotional skills on the playground.

Playworks reports on their website that, “many educators report recess as being the most challenging point of the school day, during which conflicts arise that can carry into the classroom. Recess is often undervalued and many kids end up on the sidelines. In the last decade, nearly half of all school districts nationwide have either completely eliminated or reduced specific time for recess.”

“Playworks is working to ensure that play is an integral and necessary part of the school day. What happens on the playground affects an entire school culture,” they added.