Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Make 2014 the year your kids play

By John Bare
February 1, 2014 -- Updated 1411 GMT (2211 HKT)
First Lady Michelle Obama is surrounded by school children doing jumping jacks during a 'Let's Move!' event, October 11, 2011.
First Lady Michelle Obama is surrounded by school children doing jumping jacks during a 'Let's Move!' event, October 11, 2011.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Bare: New year a good time to reawaken to the value of play in kids' lives
  • He says a nonprofit organization, Playworks, is in the forefront of rethinking school recess
  • Study found that schools with new form of recess had less bullying, he says

Editor's note: John Bare is vice president of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and executive-in-residence at Georgia Tech's Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship.

(CNN) -- C'mon, kids. Don't just sit there. Play. It's the first day of the New Year, so there's no better time to start.

With all the sporting events on TV this time of year, parents need to be sure kids take a break from watching others play games and do some playing themselves. Play will improve a kid's life. Jill Vialet guarantees it.

Vialet, who is emerging as America's Play Laureate with her new young-adult novel "Recess Rules" has given the world a free guide to games, from "All Tangled Up" to "Zip, Zap, Pop."

John Bare
John Bare

Best of all, no power cord is required.

When I met Vialet five years ago, she was ramping up her nonprofit organization, Playworks, to go national. She taught me that instead of treating play as the opposite of work, play carries its own intrinsic value.

Play is not an indulgent diversion from what's really important. It enhances what's most important in our lives -- relationships, school performance and even brain development.

Schools across the country are catching on. Thanks to Vialet's genius, nearly a half-million students in 23 cities are discovering the magic of playing during recess. (The foundation where I work is funding Playworks training in Georgia.)

For these schools, play is the new work.

In a nation where we're supposed to keep our shoulder to the wheel, keeping a hula hoop around our hips turns out to be just as important.

School bans balls during recess

With all the high-tech innovations and education-reform models competing for favor, the oldest of old-school notions, plain old recess, produces remarkable benefits.

Vialet's road to recess began in 1995, when a principal unloaded with tales of recess nightmares. Fights on the playground. Teachers not ready or not willing to supervise recess. Disengaged kids just waiting around on the playground. Antsy kids unable to sit still in the classroom.

So Vialet founded Playworks, to which schools could outsource recess. Vialet was taking a problem off the principal's hands, and she believed she could run recess cheaper and more effectively than schools could.

Once she got the program going, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation put serious money into expansion. The foundation also put up money for Stanford University and Mathematica Policy Research to carry out a high-stakes test. Evaluators randomly assigned some schools to try the Playworks approach. Then they compared student results at the Playworks schools to those from students at similar set of schools not using the program.

The findings require us to re-imagine recess. Instead of questioning whether schools can afford recess, Playworks began asking how schools could afford not to offer recess.

At schools using Playworks, there were fewer cases of bullying. Students felt safer at Playworks schools. While Playworks was not created as an anti-bullying program, it has emerged as a promising tool to create safe settings for student learning.

Kids in Playworks schools also spend more time in vigorous physical activity, and schools did not have to juggle their class schedule to add more P.E. In the national push to get kids moving, recess, not P.E., is looking like the answer.

All of this leads to my favorite lesson from Vialet:

"Do you know how hard it is to get kids to exercise for 60 minutes a day?" she told The New York Times. "Do you know how easy it is to get kids to play for 60 minutes a day?"

We don't have to run kids through a Marine boot camp to improve their physical fitness. All we need to is allow them to play. It's one reason the Detroit Lions football club is teaming up with Playworks. Through its Play 60 initiative, the National Football League is helping kids find ways to be active for 60 minutes every day. Kids can play their way to Play 60.

Further, Playworks students were in their seats, attentive and focused. Having burned off the extra energy during recess, the students were fidgeting less. This smoother transition to the classroom translates into more time for real instruction. Thanks to the "re-captured" time, Playworks students received an additional 20 hours of instruction during the school year.

For teachers, Playworks is the gift that keeps on giving. With Playworks staff running recess, teachers are freed up to focus on teaching. Then students show up in class ready to learn.

Play shapes how the brain is wired. In his book, "Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul", Dr. Stuart Brown describes both the social and biological benefits of play. More play is associated with the kind of brain development that helps us grasp and make sense of information.

Dr. John Ratey's work goes further, describing how regular physical activity helps aging adults keep their wits. It's smart business for parents to join their kids in play.

So skip the resolutions this year. Just play.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are soley those of John Bare.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 0423 GMT (1223 HKT)
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT