The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children 6 years and older participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day. Besides the obvious physical health benefits, active play can also increase children’s social competence and emotional maturity.
School success largely depends on children’s ability to interact positively with their peers and adults, so the impact of play can be felt in academic performance and social wellbeing. As organizations that work closely with young people, Playworks and the Rhode Island Healthy Schools Coalition play a significant role in ensuring that young Rhode Islanders are taught the importance of physical, social and emotional health.
Many habits are learned when we are young, and the formation of a healthy lifestyle should not be an exception. Research has shown that playtime not only positively impacts childhood development, but also improves academic performance. Children who are more active are more attentive, process things at a greater cognitive speed, and perform better on standardized tests than children who aren’t as active. Playtime also improves social skills and helps develop emotional maturity.
RIHSC and Playworks have chosen to partner with schools because they are the perfect environments to teach young people about health and wellness. Children and adolescents spend a significant amount of their day at school: eating meals, performing physical activities such as running around and playing sports, and learning how to get along with each other. We also seek to help adults understand the value of healthy play and teach them to recognize the signs of unhealthy play, such as exclusion or bullying. The added value of partnering with schools is that the Playworks model provides an equitable resource across all schools, no matter their location or assets or means. The fundamentals and the concepts of the healthy play can be implemented in an urban or rural setting, for example.
A wonderful example of a local school harnessing the power of play is Primrose Hill School in Barrington. After experiencing a number of playground issues and frustrated adults who felt unable to help, Principal Pat Tolento’s research led her to the Recess Rocks in RI Playshop — one of Playworks’ professional development workshops designed to help educators understand how recess, play and physical activity can positively impact school climate as well as teach adults how to ease the challenge of access to healthy play. The Playshop is a three-hour high-level overview of the benefits and barriers to play in elementary schools. Participants have the opportunity to learn new games and strategies to immediately bring back to their school to support recess. It also serves as an introduction to the full Recess Rocks in RI training program.
Primrose participated in the full Recess Rocks in Rhode RI training, creating recess plans, focusing on recess transitions and systems and learning new games for student participation. Thanks to the training, Principal Tolento has seen an increase in the value of recess at the school. Teachers and students alike are now engaging in a new way. They are participating in new games, playing on rainy days and including new friends. Not only are more kids being physically active on the playground, there has been a measurable decrease in conflicts. The 2016-17 school year saw a decrease of 100 discipline incidents compared to the previous year and there have been fewer recorded incidents compared to this time last year.
With success stories like Primrose Hill’s, we only become more inspired to spread the word about the power of play. But we know we can’t do it alone. We are grateful for the support of organizations like Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, which understand the importance of creating healthy habits early on in life. Thanks to BCBSRI’s generosity, participation in Recess Rocks in RI recess implantation training was free of charge for Primrose Hill — and continues to be free for any other schools interested in participating. By helping young people establish healthy habits through play, we not only help lower the risk of child obesity and the other serious conditions it can lead to, we also help lower health care costs in the long term for all Rhode Islanders.
Tolento’s belief that play is a powerful way of learning for children sums up the foundation of our organizations’ programming quite well. Her investment in the necessary resources and time to regularly roll out recess games symbolizes her steadfast commitment to her students’ physical and emotional health. And the science shows that active kids are not only healthy kids, but they are also smarter kids.
We encourage other schools in the Ocean State to harness the power of play, thus ensuring a healthy future for all Rhode Islanders.
Karin Wetherill is co-director of the Rhode Island Healthy Schools Coalition and Jonathan Gay is executive director of Playworks New England.