ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jill Vialet thinks kids don’t know how to play anymore.
The culprit, she said, is the popularity of videogames. Also, parents are also less comfortable letting children play unsupervised outdoors.
“When I was growing up, there was a culture of play,” Vialet said. “The older kids taught us the rules to games. Now, kids don’t know any games.”
Vialet has set out to change that with Playworks, a nationwide program that has launched in seven Albuquerque elementary schools this year. Playworks seeks to engage students in additional recess time, and to place them with coaches who teach them games and emphasize the value of play.
Each Playworks school is assigned a coach, who works with students during recess sessions. Depending on the size of the school, a coach will work with each class once or twice a week.
The program costs each school $23,500, and additional support is provided by Americorp and community sponsors.
On a recent day at Kirtland Elementary School, Playworks coach Cameron Pittman taught a class of third-graders how to play a variety of games. In one game, students followed counterintuitive commands: When he said “go,” students were expected to freeze, and vice versa.
In another game, students ran around at random, then had to form groups of three when Pittman blew a whistle. Pittman said he tries to tailor his activities to the needs of a particular class. In this class, for example, Pittman said the teacher was trying to break up cliques of students and urge students to work together. So he used mixer-oriented games to get the students interacting.
Like many Playworks coaches, Pittman became a coach through Americorp. Although you wouldn’t recognize his face, you might know Pittman as a former Lobo mascot. He said coaches from around the country collaborate to find games that students respond to.
Jenai Gardner, 8, said she and her classmates played more during their time with Pittman than they would have during an unstructured recess.
“I loved it, and we actually played more than we would at recess,” she said.
Vialet said she does not want to add too much structure to recess, only to give students the knowledge they need to start a game and build their own culture of play.
“We’re just creating the structure so kids have a fighting chance of owning it themselves,” she said. Vialet also said the program has gotten positive feedback from teachers, who say students are less fidgety when they return to class after a Playworks session.
Marlene Baca, the chief sales and service officer at Lovelace Health Plan, said the program also has health benefits. Not only will students get exercise while they are playing, she said, but they also may develop a fondness for outdoor play that can last into adulthood and decrease the chance of obesity.
“We truly believe Playworks is going to help children develop healthy attitudes about play and physical activity that carry into their adulthood,” Baca said.
Lovelace Health Plan is the primary sponsor of Playworks in Albuquerque this year.
The elementary schools using the program are: La Luz, Griegos, Dolores Gonzales, Kirtland, Carlos Rey, Montezuma and The International Charter School.