Playing helps kids increase their social competence and emotional maturity, lets them burn off energy and helps them regain focus after recess. This fall, six schools across Indianapolis launched a program called Playworks, designed to transform urban schools, enhance education and health.
For 45 minutes, on a rotating basis with other classes, Mr. Kaplan’s first grade class at The Challenge Foundation Academy in the Meadows is led by Coach Dan Kamer of Playworks. The young coach works full time at the school overseeing recess and participating in classes. On this day Coach Dan has the first graders on their feet for a game called “Please and thank you tag”. In the game the students walk around like robots until tagged, then remain frozen in place until two other students free them by saying, “Please come out and play.”
Kyle Nakanishi, the Indianapolis program manager for Playworks, says many of Coach Dan’s games have lessons in “soft skills”.
“He really tried to incorporate games that had a positive, a really positive, language towards it. So that the kids didn’t really know that they were practicing their positive language but more so were playing it. And then were like, 'Oh, wait, that language works!' That’s pretty awesome. Okay.”
Playworks Indiana executive director Marc McAleavey believes the soft skills the kids are learning will pay off in the workplace when they are adults.
“I think the soft skills that kids get through Playworks are the things that you can’t teach later. Are the things that are hard to teach in college and in high school.”
How do children in Playworks schools end conflict? RoShamBo.
Nine-year old Kennedy Harris, a fourth grader at the school explains, “It’s the same thing as Rock Paper Scissors – but it has a different name.” When asked if she’s ever had to use RoShamBo she said, “Yes. In gym and in RoShamBo tag.”
Challenge Foundation Academy principal Kelly Herron says it works. “I have two children that attend school here and very quickly RoShamBo has become the conflict resolution skill in our home. It’s just been great.”
Herron says the school was sold on Playworks after having a coach visit the school for one week last summer. “In that one week, we saw a change. Children were coming in to the classrooms ready to learn from recess and just really focused on what they needed to do.”
IU Health is funding the first two years of Playworks in Indianapolis. Community Outreach manager Lisa Cole says, “School performance improves when there is physical activity throughout the school day. Both education and obesity prevention efforts are key priorities for us. So we thought this was a proven model that was important to bring to our community.”
Program manager Kyle Nakanishi says many students come from neighborhoods that aren’t safe or don’t have parks.
“It’s almost like their only safe haven to play. So really the only place they can really let loose they can be active and run around is on the playground at school," Nakanishi said. "So it’s really important that Playworks is here to give every kid that opportunity to play in a positive light.”
Fourth grader Kennedy Harris thinks school is more fun now that Coach Dan has taught them new games. “I like four square and the jump ropes and I like playing Cookie Monster.”
Another tool Coach Dan uses is the phrase Crocodile, Crocodile – he also gestures with his arms in front of him like a croc eating. The kids respond with the phrase “chomp, chomp” and then hush because something fun is about to be introduced.
Plans are to offer Playworks in 15 Indianapolis schools next year.