Kari Taylor had girls running up and back on a part of the field at Larry C. Kennedy Elementary School last week, in various organized drills and games meant to increase soccer skills. She was at Kennedy Elementary for a “Soccer Extravaganza” with help from The Phoenix FC Wolves, the new USL PRO professional soccer team. Several players from the team were there playing soccer with the 140 girls from the seven schools at which Playworks in Arizona has teachers.
Taylor works at Loma Linda Elementary School as a member of the Playworks program teaching kids how to do recess. It isn’t as simple as tossing out some playground equipment and getting it all back before kids go back into the classroom. The schools often lack the basic playground equipment and the students don’t know what to do at recess.
Taylor says some kids, usually boys, will bring a soccer ball to school but not allow the girls to play. And when they bring their own soccer ball, the boys exclude anyone they don’t want to participate. Hence the girls-only “Soccer Extravaganza” last week.
I asked Taylor if there if kids just didn’t know how to play on the playground, a skill one would think would be innate to childhood. I was stunned when she answered “Absolutely.” She teaches kids how to use the playground equipment, what games to play, where to play them and how to put the equipment away. Taylor adds, “You start from square one, and you transform it, but it doesn’t take long because kids are excited to have equipment and have structure, and have something to do; especially the older kids.”
She has eighth graders at Loma Linda who ask for playground balls so they can play in a four-square tournament, when last year they just walked around, doing nothing or getting in fights.
Taylor makes the point that Playworks does not provide physical education classes. Playworks teaches the playground skills necessary for kids to be active and have fun during recess and so do better in the classroom. The playground is an unstructured social environment and Playworks teaches kids how to play well with others, resolve disputes and make recess a positive experience.
Taylor says Playworks will stay at a school for three years. In that time, the program should be self-sustaining as kids learn to be physically active and know how to have a positive experience during recess.
To create a firm footing for recess to flourish at school, Taylor says she has a group of 15 fifth-graders she is training to be junior coaches. They teach the Kindergartners how to play tag, jump rope, play four-square, soccer and other games. By the time those Kindergartners have reached second grade and the older kids have learned playground skills and games the program should perpetuate itself according to Taylor.
Playworks only works at schools where at least 50 percent of the students are eligible for free and reduced lunches. Schools pay for part of the cost of the Playworks staff member assigned to the school and Playworks provides the rest from it’s own charitable donors and fundraising.
Event Saturday April 6 at Scottsdale Airpark to benefit Playworks. Run/walk down the Scottsdale Airpark runway. Register by April by April 4. Learn more.