Professionals of playtime

Coaches hired for school recess

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Ms. McElroy said the days are gone when children were adept at finding ways to play creatively on their own. The rise of electronic entertainment and the decline of spontaneous neighborhood play have left many children ill-equipped to handle unstructured playground time; they don’t have the social skills.

“Kids by and large don’t know how to do that anymore,” Ms. McElroy said. “They weren’t doing it, anyway.”

Alexandra Penn, founder of Champions Against Bullying, a nonprofit that offers workshops and other services, agreed. She said more playground supervision is essential, as is specific training in how to manage bullying.

“Kids bully for many reasons and they also bully because they can,” Ms. Penn said. “Who’s stopping them?”

In addition, she said, it’s incumbent on schools to ensure that all children - including those prone to being bullied - receive the benefits of recess.

“Play stretches a child’s imagination and boosts self-esteem,” Ms. Penn said. “Children become more resilient, develop cognitively, learn how to problem solve, interact with others, discover all they can do on their own and get in touch with their feelings and those of others.”

Having recess coaches doesn’t mean that schools have lost sight of the benefits of self-motivated play, proponents said. Helping children get there is part of the plan.

“It’s really getting these kids more and more working together as a team,” said Marc Sickel, founder of Fitness for Health, a Washington, D.C.-area organization that trains school staff and volunteers to facilitate playground activities. “We assume too many times that the kids have the ability to work out their conflicts, when they really don’t have those yet.”

As head of a culturally diverse school, Ms. McElroy said, she welcomes all opportunities for cooperative learning.

“Anything we can do like this helps build a school community,” she said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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