The pride in Hadfield Elementary School Principal Al Busch’s voice is obvious as he shares some impressive statistics: behavior referrals (students being sent to the office) at the Waukesha school have been trending downward for the past three years, and referrals from recess have been cut in half. The positive change is stemming from a surprising source - the playground.
For the past three years, Hadfield Elementary has been participating in Playworks’ TeamUp, a program that transforms recess by giving educators the tools to shape play environments, bringing out the best in kids. TeamUp helps schools create a place on the playground for every child to feel included, be active, and build valuable social and emotional skills. The program is partially funded through a grant from United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County through the Helping Kids Succeed initiative.
“It’s not unusual for people’s first reaction to the program to be, ‘Why do we need to teach kids how to play on the playground?’” says Melissa Yow, director of elementary teaching and learning with Waukesha Public Schools. “We assume kids know the rules to games or will easily organize themselves into activities. But unfortunately, that’s not always the case.”
When kids don’t understand the rules of a game, or perceive themselves as not being skilled enough, they are less likely to participate in recess and won’t get the benefits of physical activity. As Principal Busch points out, kids learn best through play. They learn social and emotional skills like problem solving, teamwork and leadership, which they will use in the classroom, in the workplace and life. For example, disagreements are resolved quickly and fairly by employing rock, paper, scissors. This means the kids spend more time playing and less time in disagreements.
“When kids have a positive experience on the playground, it carries over into the classroom,” says Principal Busch. “The skills they gain learning to solve problems on the playground can be applied to the classroom too.”
In addition to teaching school staff how to improve recess, the program also uses junior coaches, putting the recess culture into the hands of capable upper-elementary students. The junior coaches apply for the position and are recommended by their teachers. This important role helps build leadership skills and increases interaction between various ages.
Another advantage of TeamUp is enhanced safety on the playground. As Principal Busch explains, it makes sense to have a dedicated space for jumping rope that is far enough away from the game of tag to avoid collisions, but that sort of planning doesn’t always happen without the forethought that Team Up brings to recess. “After-recess visits to our health room have also decreased significantly over the past three years,” he adds.
Playworks’ TeamUp was first implemented at four Waukesha elementary schools three years ago. Thanks to the grant through the Helping Kids Succeed initiative, the program has been expanded to include four more schools this year. Principal Busch thanks the donors who have contributed to United Way and wants them to know that their gifts are having a real, measurable impact on education.
“The world is becoming more complex for kids every day,” he says. “It’s more important than ever to give them the social and emotional tools they need to be successful. TeamUp is an extremely valuable program, and on behalf of all of the educators who have seen its benefits, thank you.”
Learn more about how United Way’s Helping Kids Succeed initiative is taking action to improve outcomes in Waukesha Public Schools.