Playing to learn

Monta Loma program stresses educational value of schoolyard games

Behavior referrals are down and kids are more focused in class, thanks to a new program that brings greater structure to recess at Monta Loma Elementary, a school official said.

Now in its third year at the school, the Playworks program has helped improve student conduct and concentration by getting more children to participate in an organized sport or schoolyard activity, said Cathy Baur, principal of Monta Loma.

According to Baur, before the introduction of program many children would spend their free time aimlessly wandering around the playground or congregating in groups, which can lead to trouble. "Idle hands..." Baur explained, trailing off without completing the idiom.

Things are different these days. On Jan. 27, Baur walked around her school's playground, pointing out five distinct Playworks-organized activities: jump rope, four-square, soccer, street hockey and a game called Pac-Man tag. Only a few children did not participate in a game.

"Play is essential for kids," Baur said. For starters, kids need to blow off steam, she said -- an assertion that fifth-grade student and Playworks "junior coach" Idalia Lopez agrees with.

"If we didn't have recess, I think kids would be bad in school, because they didn't get their energy out," Idalia speculated.

But there are additional benefits to the program, aside from combating in-class restlessness and playground mischief.

"It's all about getting them to interact with each other," said Titus Ares, director of the Playworks program at Monta Loma.

Aries, who the kids call "Coach Titus" and Baur calls, "the most popular person on campus," said that the games provide a gateway to real life skills, such as cooperation, communication and conflict resolution. "We take the chaos of the playground and we remold it."

If a minor dispute arises, Ares said, the kids are taught to hold a quick bout of rock, paper, scissors; whoever wins the match wins the argument.

On the surface it may seem like a completely arbitrary solution, but each time a conflict is resolved peacefully this way, it reinforces one of the most essential of all adult skills. "They are learning to work it out," Ares said. "They are learning to compromise."

Additionally, the program recruits student volunteers to help Ares run the games. These fourth- and fifth-grade "junior coaches" learn leadership skills; they are taught the rules of the games so that they may preside over them with a level of authority and help ensure that everybody plays fair.

Playworks is administered by a national non-profit organization of the same name. The company was founded in Berkeley in 1996 with one goal: "transform recess and the school day with safe and healthy play, so teachers can teach and kids can learn," according to its website. Since then, it has spread to more than 300 schools in 23 U.S. cities and reaches approximately 130,000 students every day.

The Playworks program at Monta Loma is funded in part by the school's site fund, but it is also subsidized by the Playworks organization and money from El Camino Hospital.


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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Feb 6, 2012 at 2:23 pm

"According to Baur, before the introduction of program many children would spend their free time aimlessly wandering around the playground or congregating in groups, which can lead to trouble."

...I thought this was called free play?

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Posted by Adult
a resident of Monta Loma
on Feb 6, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Kids no longer have to learn socialisation skills since the adults pair them up. They no longer have to make decisions about what to play since the adults dictate that. No more free play since everything is scheduled and worked out by the adults.

How were these things handled for the last 100 years?

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Posted by Aceswife
a resident of Shoreline West
on Feb 6, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Wow! I work with these children. It is no dictated whatsoever. It is constant free play and if boredom sets in, where mischief would usually ignite, there is an alternative they can turn to. I have watched the play yard go from lots of conflict and trouble making, to "having more choices". They learn team work, cooperation, and that they don't have to cause trouble, there is always a caring, fun adult to turn to to guide them in new skills. There has been less bullying and more cooperation. The kids look forward to this time where they can have choices. If they don't want structured play, there is a playground and swings. Some kids go out to the field and talk. There are more choices and less conflict. I have seen and worked with these children before the program and after. They are so much happier with having more options. It is never forced.

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Posted by MV parent
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 6, 2012 at 10:32 pm

This sounds like a really promising program! If my child's experience is typical at a MV public school the recess chaos and conflicts definitely spill over into the learning time in the classroom. My kid's teachers have been wonderful at helping kids deal with the aftermath created by a chaotic recess but I know that it is eating up valuable learning. Just having "yard duty" adults does not help kids find positive, engaging ways to play together. It looks like this program helps kids learn conflict management approaches and encourages engagement in playground games to get kids active in a positive manner. How do we get this approach piloted in more Mountain View schools???

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Posted by TLG
a resident of Monta Loma
on Feb 10, 2012 at 5:00 pm

I was on the ML campus recently during recess and this program is AMAZING! The article is great, but does not come close to describing the fun and exciting recess that Cathy Baur and Playworks have created for the kids at ML. I did see numerous games/activities including jump rope, some kind of tag, 4 square, hockey and soccer come to mind...BUT what was most impressive to me was that the students appeared to know and follow rules of each game...someone scored in hockey, one team dropped their sticks and lined back up for another turn...this happened a couple of times during the recess....AND there was no adult running the game...just two kids in purple "playworks" shirts and lots of kids appearing to have fun. I saw Coach Titus in action. I saw him handing out equipment, checking game set-ups, talking with kids and hopping into games to join in on the fun.
I was on the ML campus during recess before Cathy Baur and Coach Titus arrived and I am SUPER thankful for everything we observed on our recent visit. They have created more than a bunch of "fun choices"...they appear to be teaching leadership, good sportsmanship, respect, cooperation, etc., etc., etc.
I saw the dramatic difference on the ML campus first hand. I know this recess project took a LOT of hard work from lots of people to make such a huge change(in only 3 years)...and Cathy Baur and Coach Titus and all the adults supporting the education of SAFE, FUN and ACTIVE play options during recess at ML...KUDOS on your hard work! Making changes that directly impact the children in our community in such a positive way seems rare these days....THANK YOU!!!!!

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a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Feb 11, 2017 at 10:37 pm

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