The power of play

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Reading, writing and arithmetic -- they're the basics.  But add on class size and standardized testing and that's what most of us focus on when it comes to improving education. But what if boosting a child's brainpower was closely linked to boosting their play power?

Basketball, football, four square, jump rope, and tetherball - they're the basics we grew up playing from dawn to dusk, but most kids today spend less than 30 minutes outside playing.

"When I was growing up, the older kids taught us how to use rock paper scissors to resolve conflicts, how to pick teams, how to even teams up and those skills, kids don't bring to school anymore," said Jill Vialet, the CEO and founder of Playworks.

Vialet describes herself as a recess expert for the country and for the last 25 years, she's dedicated herself to figuring out what helps kids grow not only in the classroom, but also on the playground.

"You see instant changes because kids want to play. We're tapping into this intrinsic desire they have to know one another, to engage, to play. And what they need are people showing them how to do it so they can have success," Vialet said.

She founded Playworks, the only non-profit organization that sends trained, fulltime play coaches into schools across the country.

"It's a chance for them to understand their own power and their own leadership. It gives them a chance to develop empathy and team work and it does it all in a much less loaded context," Vialet said.

Jenna Joyner has two bachelor's degrees and is working on her master's, now she's a Playworks coach.

"We're showing you what good behavior looks like. We're showing you what respect for other looks like. We're showing you communication skills and conflict resolution," said Joyner.

Joyner teaches the rules, offers tutoring before school and leads after school play leagues. She also picks the junior coaches.

"We make sure everybody is having fun," said Carmen Cortez, a junior coach and 5th grader at Franklin elementary school.  And when there is a problem...

"Anytime there's a disagreement, right away, it's rock paper scissors," Joyner explained.

Twenty-five hundred educators who have witnessed Playworks in action were surveyed. Almost all said students were more active during recess. There was less bullying, less discipline needed, and a decrease in fights spilling into the classroom.

Teachers also saw an increase in students' ability to focus in class. They gained eighteen minutes of class time back per day, that's more than 24 hours a year that was lost to resolving conflicts from the playground.

But these kids are less interested in those facts. No matter the game, Vialet believes play will have a positive impact.

"Kids like a challenge, they are ambitious, and play is a very natural way to give them both winning and failing, but ultimately give them a chance at success," said Vialet.

Although none are yet in the state of Florida, Playworks will be in 400 schools this fall-helping more than 200,000 kids. Each school pays between $25,000 and $30,000 for a fulltime, trained coach. Each coach makes about $2,300 a month. Vialet says they are hiring right now, so if you're interested find out more at

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