recess program at school kids playing

Students at Park Terrace played football recently during recess as part of its new Peaceful Playground program.

Park Terrace Elementary Implements Peaceful Playgrounds Recess Program

ABC Newspapers – Coon Rapids, MN  December 2012

Nearly four months into a new recess program and Park Terrace Elementary School is already reaping the benefits.

Peaceful Playground is making a difference, said Dean Downs, Park Terrace’s physical education teacher. Downs, with the help of staff, has spearheaded the school’s Peaceful Playground Recess Program.

“Teachers are saying Park Terrace kids are coming in with less problems in their classes,” Downs said. “So that, to me, is a positive.”

The program’s goal is to get kids moving, teach good team behavior and introduce students to new games.

That’s not to mention that the exercise gets their blood flowing and their brains working. Plus it’s a nice break for the kids, Downs says.

Park Terrace has worked so hard to make the school safe and welcoming inside, but when it came to outside, unstructured activities this was not the case, said Principal Kim Fehringer.

“It was just not fun for the kids,” she said.

Now, with Peaceful Playground in place, she estimates recess behavior problems have been cut in half. The program continues to evolve, she said.

The four basic Rs

In describing the daily program, Downs refers to the four basic Rs of education – reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic and recess – an idea he picked up from an article he came across in his research by Aaron Beighle titled “Maximizing Recess Physical Activity.”

Some of the Peaceful Playground Recess Program activities are volleyball, soccer, tag, basketball and four square. The snow, however offers a challenge. But despite the weather, Downs continues to dream up new games for the kids.

A recent visit to the school found the first- through third-grade students playing football and making snow forts in the play area adjacent to the school.

The temperature was 18 degrees. But the kids were snuggly dressed for the outdoors and ready to burn off some energy. Some played football. Some built snow forts, while others walked as part of Mileage Club, another popular Peaceful Playground activity.

As part of club requirements, kids keep track on a scorecard of how many miles they walk a week.

Downs has gone so far as to offer the kids a virtual trip for their efforts. He uses stickpins on a U.S. map to mark how many miles the kids have accumulated as an entire class.

The first grade is aiming to get to Florida, the second grade Texas, and the third-graders have already walked enough miles to get to Wisconsin on their way to their ultimate goal of California.

After logging so many miles, as an incentive, Downs awards students a miniature, plastic foot he calls toe tokens. Later, entire classes who have reached their goals are recognized at a school assembly.

“I like getting to run and getting awards,” said third-grader Dallas Hegvik as he was finishing recess and heading back to the classroom. Dallas was ready to learn after enjoying some fresh air and fun.

Including everybody

Downs hopes that through Peaceful Playground children will realize that recess is a fun time. A time to include everybody in their games and a time to try a variety of games. Plus, they meet new friends.

So far the cost to Park Terrace for the program is zero. They already had the prize incentives, so no costs there.

Still, in his research Downs has found that the more colorful the play area and the more activities offered, the more likely students will be willing to participate.

With that in mind, he plans to apply for a Panther Foundation Grant for funds to purchase paint to add pizzazz to lines marking the play stations. A map of the United States imprinted on the playground might be in Park Terrace’s future as well.

The idea is that kids don’t need expensive equipment to play, Downs said.

Playing together

Peaceful Playground offers students a chance to learn team work, cooperation and playing together in an unruffled manner.

“The more active we can keep the kids, the healthier they’re going to be in all aspects of their lives,” Downs said.

Next, Principal Fehringer and staff hope to introduce a Peace Corner into the school.

The concept involves kids having a designated spot to get together and resolve their issues on their own, without an adult intervening.

Staff will soon undergo training on the initiative.

Fehringer said she hopes to have the Peace Corner in place by some time this spring.

The Recess Advocacy Toolkit includes: parent letters, a powerpoint presentation, a meeting agenda, and advocacy guide for Saving School Recess.  It can be download here :