Bully-Proofing Playgrounds During School Recess (page 2)

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

How the Prevention Program was Developed and Evaluated

School and community partners were actively involved in the implementation, data collection, and data interpretation process.

  • The primary concern indicated by the school partners was to establish a socialized recess program whereby children would play together more cooperatively, with less aggression and rough play. Given that there were complaints that rough physical play occurred throughout the school yard, we wished to reduce this to more normative levels.
  • A second issue was to promote better interactions among children of different ethnic backgrounds.

Over the course of several months, researchers and playground supervisors collaborated weekly to develop a structured and engaging recess program, through learning fun and engaging activities, active monitoring strategies, and successful techniques to handle aggressive behaviors.

  • Playground dynamics were changed as supervisors repainted the playground, dividing it into five distinct sections differentiated by age and gender-appropriate activities (i.e., hopscotch, relay races, hot potato game, jump rope).
  • Additionally, playground supervisors conducted an assembly to inform students and teachers about the new socialized recess program, playground expectations and activities, and ways that classroom teachers can learn how to best support these efforts.
  • Playground supervisors were given training on how to monitor a specific area of the playground in an active and engaging manner. They also were encouraged to provide at least one structured activity within their section of the playground.

The following year, the research team was invited back to the school to help the playground supervisors determine whether the socialized recess program procedures were being successful in promoting more cooperation and less physical action among students. Using a playground-based observation system co-designed by researchers and school staff, the research team observed 32 separate recess periods.

  • It was found that having a structured activity occurring within a section of the playground was related to much higher rates of cooperative play among children and less physical and rough play.
  • For example, having an activity in a particular section of the playground was associated with a three-fold increase in the probability that children would be engaged in cooperative play, while rough-physical play was cut in half and thereby reduced to a more normative level.
  • Further, when adults actively monitored their section of the playground, there was a significant increase in positive social interactions amongst children from different ethnic backgrounds.

We shared findings from the study with the school. We then assisted in the continued development of the socialized recess program.

What We Found

  • Results from this study suggest that structured and cooperative games during school recess can have a strong impact on increasing childhood prosocial behaviors and decreasing behaviors found to lead to aggression and bullying (e.g., high levels of rough physical play).
  • Further, the role of active supervision among adults on the playground had beneficial effects, especially in promoting positive interactions among youth of diverse cultures.
  • The fact that this relatively-intensive study was enthusiastically supported by the school suggests that partnerships between researchers and diverse school staff and students can be used to create respectful and sensitive bullying and aggression prevention programs on school playgrounds during recess.

This study is descriped in more detail in Leff, Costigan, & Power (11).

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