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Peaceful Playgrounds replaces recess chaos with activity and fun
The Peaceful Playgrounds program embraced by Coos Bay School District elementary schools encourages students to settle recess disputes through the game “Rock, Paper, Scissors.” Blossom Gulch School third graders Kindall Wyatt (left) and Piper Callahan demonstrated the game. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
Blossom Gulch School’s recess is a controlled riot of fun.
On a typical October day, students rushed onto the sprawling playground in Coos Bay. Some headed for the play structure. Others grabbed a ball or hula hoop from racks rolled onto a covered court. Off to the sides, kids played organized games with teachers or each other.
Teachers walked the imaginary lines between the play zones, keeping an eye out for risky behavior.
A whistle blew, and a teacher called out, “Freeze and touch your knees.” Kids everywhere, even the ones gently swaying on the swings, stopped what they were doing and put their hands on their knees. They put the recess equipment away before walking (mostly) back to class, and the next wave of kids came rushing out.
The Peaceful Playgrounds recess program has helped bring order and energy to the playground, teachers say, reducing conflict and increasing activity and participation for the roughly 600 children at the K-3 school.
The Student Success Act is pushing schools to invest in ways to make the learning environment safer, more supportive and equitable, and the Peaceful Playgrounds philosophy carries those goals to recess. Blossom Gulch staff found it fit well with the district’s positive behavioral interventions and supports approach.
“Recess doesn’t mean teaching stops,” said Blossom Gulch Principal Kara Davidson.
Under OSBA’s Promise Scholarship Program last school year, the Coos Bay School Board set a strategic directive of addressing disruptive behavior so every child could learn. More structured play was one of the goals that followed.
School Board Chair Adrian DeLeon said the district was seeing benefits for staff and students, and the program fit well with board goals.
Peaceful Playgrounds sells materials and instruction to help schools make better use of their recreation space while creating a more enticing and safer playground environment.
Educational assistant Rachel Lindsey, who had seen Peaceful Playgrounds in action in California, introduced Blossom Gulch to the program’s ideas two years ago. First grade teacher Amelia Edd worked with Lindsey to get grants last spring to fully implement the program and train all the district’s elementary teachers and administrators as well as buy recess equipment for the schools.
California elementary school principal Melinda Bossenmeyer created the program more than 20 years ago and has steadily refined it. Peaceful Playgrounds offers a full recess kit for $4,999 that includes instructions, equipment, and stencils and paint to create games that engage students and keep everyone active. The kit costs less than typical play structures, and proponents say the games get more kids active and involved. Peaceful Playgrounds also offers training to improve student behavior and recess organization.
A San Diego study of 14 elementary schools showed Peaceful Playgrounds increased student activity and decreased bullying and referrals.
The proprietary game designs are licensed to individual schools, but Blossom Gulch received permission to include Millicoma School. As part of Coos Bay School District bond construction, Blossom Gulch is moving and being renamed next school year and will share a playground with Millicoma. Coos Bay’s Sunset School picked up the program using federal Title 1 education funds, and the district’s remaining elementary, Madison, is looking at also getting involved.
All the district’s elementary teachers have received the webinar training. Blossom Gulch’s grant also paid for 13 certified supervisor licenses, covering administrators and two teachers at each of the district’s lower-grade schools. A grant will pay for an on-site training still to be scheduled.
Blossom Gulch is waiting to fully implement the new games until the school is in its new location, but it has instituted much of the playground philosophy. Teachers say they love it and they have already seen benefits. Their playground is less chaotic while at the same time more kids are engaged, active and having fun. Students transition easier from the playground to the classroom.
Key to the approach is dividing the playground into zones that spread children out and give monitors well-defined supervision areas. Adults are visible and ready to prevent accidents from unsafe play.
Principal Davidson said the training has improved recess supervision, discouraging teachers from clustering together to talk or standing somewhere out of the wind.
Blossom Gulch teachers said little tricks from the program’s training have made recess run smoother, with fewer injuries and behavior problems.
Second grade teacher Jenna Hemphill said she loved how much easier it is to get the students’ attention at the end of recess. Students are returning to class on time regularly.
Third grade teacher Jessica Hageman said she likes being able to move kids to another zone when they are misbehaving rather than having to take away recess entirely. The child suffers a consequence of losing a favorite activity but is still able to get exercise.
The program defines student expectations and optimal ratios of play equipment to students.
Students are taught to respect their playground equipment, using it properly and putting it away at the end of recess. Blossom Gulch added storage bins and rolling racks for its balls, hoops and ropes.
Peaceful Playgrounds also helps schools organize and manage their space. It gave Blossom Gulch the idea to use yard-type signs near a field letting students know when it is OK to play on. When the rains make it too marshy, the teachers put in stop signs so they don’t have to keep yelling at children all recess.
Another key tenet is having clearly defined rules for each game. Students learn differing rules for activities when they play them in leagues, in the parks, or in their own yards, creating arguments. The school lays out its rules for all students, and duty supervisors can keep a copy of the rules handy.
Blossom Gulch has tied teaching the new games in with its physical education curriculum.
Students are taught ways to settle disputes, including talking it over or walking away to play someplace else. The most popular with kids, though, is the game “Rock, Paper, Scissors.”
A dozen students happily demonstrated. They stand back to back (to prevent cheating) and then whirl around with their hands in one of the three choices.
Victory is the final arbiter in disputes, and teachers like it because it takes them out of the position of inquisitor and judge.
The program’s philosophy is interlaced with values such as that students of all abilities should have lots of choices for free play and that no one can be told he or she can’t play.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA
Peaceful Playgrounds’ philosophy includes that students should have lots of recess options. From left, Blossom Gulch School kindergartners Amaya Richardson, Aliyah Cordell and Emily Shott opted for “Ring Around the Rosie.” (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)