Bully-Proofing Playgrounds During School Recess

By and — Bullying Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Feb 11, 2009

What factors contribute to bullying and aggression and what strategies would best promote cooperative play and positive social interaction among children during school recess? A study was done to illustrate how the development of a partnership between researchers, teachers, community members, and students can lead to a playground-based bully-prevention program. The study took place in a large urban elementary school in Philadelphia, which had approximately 750 students in kindergarten-4th grade.

The Effects of Aggression

Low level acts of aggression such as teasing, hitting, pushing, and threatening occur frequently in schools across America (1). Students who engage in such aggressive behavior usually struggle to get along with peers, have anger management challenges, behavior problems, and perform poorly academically (2, 3). Similarly, being the victim of bullying also associates with emotional problems including depression, anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem, and sometimes school avoidance (4, 5). In addition, some researchers suggest that early forms of aggression may lead children to become perpetrators of serious violence, as they become older (6). As such, it is important for schools to develop school-wide approaches to prevent low level aggression and bullying.

The Promotion of Social Skills to Prevent Bullying During Recess

Given that the majority of low-level aggression in the elementary school occurs in unstructured school settings, such as on the playground during recess (7), it is surprising that few programs have been developed to promote children’s social skills during recess (8). Children from inner-city schools may be particularly vulnerable to victimization on the playground, because these settings are often understaffed and under-resourced with respect to age- and gender appropriate play equipment (9). As such, more attention needs to be directed to re-designing school playgrounds, empowering playground supervisors to better guide children’s play behaviors, and helping educators implement age- and gender-appropriate activities for children during school recess.

Partnerships Between Educators and Researchers

Partnerships between educators and researchers can be helpful in building schools’ capacities to promote child development and prevent bullying and victimization (10). In our work, we utilize a partnership-based model that enables the research team to integrate scientific methods with input from key community stakeholders to create and evaluate a potentially effective and acceptable intervention program.

Our research team collaborated with school administrators, teachers, parents, and especially playground supervisors to design and implement a playground-based intervention. Researchers and school staff met on several occasions to better understand the strengths of the particular school and how they could improve children’s playground behaviors. We identified the concerns of children and families at the school and combined these with the team’s knowledge about research methodology and empirical literature.

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