Are ‘recess coaches’ good or micromanaging kids?

Recess coaches are the latest trends at some schools across the country. They are playtime professionals that schools hire to take the problems (such as bullying, fighting or just not playing) out of recess and help the kids learn to play cooperatively.

From the AP story:

“Jill Vialet started Playworks, then called Sports4Kids, in 1996 after meeting with a beleaguered principal bemoaning the problems of recess. She said that at schools with recess coaches, teachers report reclaiming instructional time that was previously lost to working out kids’ problems. In addition, playing cooperatively and, in some cases, earning leadership roles as “junior coaches,” builds a sense of community among students.”

” ‘The return is a much better place to learn,’ Vialet said.”

“The idea of putting recess in the hands of professionals, however, has drawn criticism from those who feel that childhood today is in danger of being micromanaged by adults. Learning to play cooperatively is an important step in children’s development, and that includes learning how to handle difficult situations, they say.”

“Lee Igel, a New York University assistant professor who has worked with schools as a sports and organizational psychology expert, said recess coaching is well-intended.”

“But the problems it is meant to address, he said — stopping bullying, encouraging inclusion, fostering cooperation — are too wide-ranging and have deeper causes….”

“In addition, Igel said, some of the hard lessons learned on the playground — being picked last for a team, for instance, or not gelling with other kids — often turn into motivation for success, or at least lend perspective, later in life.”

So what do you think: Are professional recess coaches a good thing or a bad thing? Are they necessary — maybe for some schools? Will they help kids learn to play better or does it remove a natural learning process known as the law the playground?

(I have a second blog popping up around p.m. today so stay tuned!)

27 comments Add your comment


July 14th, 2010
6:31 am

I’m all for something that helps get rid of bullying BUT…helping kids play? Really? When are we going to let kids be kids? When are we going to let them do things for themselves? I’m afraid many parents are raising a generation of kids who will be absolutely HELPLESS once they become an adult. When I was teaching, I interacted with my students on the playground…while I encouraged them to play, make a new friend or invite the “new kid” to their game, I didn’t hover and I didn’t force them into anything. This is what I still see occurring in my own children’s classes…teachers interacting with their students on the playground.

And, quite frankly, with our schools in such a budget crisis in the metro area, I don’t think most school systems could even begin to afford a “recess coach”.


July 14th, 2010
6:35 am

Call ‘em whatever you want, but anything that gives teachers a short break and a chance to visit the potty isn’t a bad thing.

No FCM...

July 14th, 2010
6:37 am yesterday’s drug blog – that $10 payment for my cholesterol drug at Wal-mart IS NOT a co-pay, it is the total cost for the drug; didn’t even show my insurance card. That price, as advertised on TV, is for the generic brand only for a 90 day supply ($4 for a 30 day supply). Brand name drugs is where drug companies make their money due to all the advertising they do – and many drugs do not have a generic equivalent, so get off your soap box and educate yourself about the real cost of drugs and you might save yourself some money…


July 14th, 2010
6:46 am

I’ll volunteer to be the coach for the bullying at a fraction of the costs. When the bullying won’t stop, punch them in the nose as hard as you can and walk off. Stops bullying every time.

a bit much

July 14th, 2010
7:16 am

to have a recess coach would imply that you would, indeed, have recess. that is one positive thing! that happens so much less these days…

but i defnitely think that’s going a little overboard.
if we are furloughing and re-districting and firing teachers because of budget- i think something like this is a giant waste of money.

i’m sure GA isn’t the only one in that budget predicament.

however, i do like the idea that if there is a terrible need for one because of bullying that becomes out of hand- well, it’s good to know there are people out there that might coach both the student and teacher on how to handle the situation before it becomes out of control. maybe as a one-time consult or something less permanent than it sounds like in the article.

one step that could save money would be to actually have the teachers monitor what’s going on and be present instead of just sitting with the other teachers unaware (as was pretty common at my school).
when teachers don’t follow the rules it’s pretty hard to enforce them on the students.

and as for play— man… just let the kids have some FREE time already. we’re already pushing them to learn things before they’re ready. now we have to be in their face for play?? that’s what PE is for. structured activity.


July 14th, 2010
7:36 am

First of all, I don’t think most schools even have recess. At my school, kids were told that the playground is now off limits because too many kids were being “hurt”. Hurt meaning that they had minor bumps and bruises. The principal is afraid of a potential lawsuit. The sad part is that most of them have no idea how to “play” on a playground or with each other. They spend their time arguing amonst themselves over the most insignificant things. It’s really sad. A recess coach isn’t necessary. Plus, who can afford one at this time anyway.


July 14th, 2010
7:38 am

I am at my daughter’s elementary school ALOT during the year and I don’t think this is necessary. I honestly can’t see why it would need to be an every day thing (but good marketing seems to have benefited this company). There are instances where the teacher has to intervene in a playground situation. Usually separating the children works. It would be nice if there would be someone to relieve the teacher of playground duty so he/she can have a recess as well. I agree anything to curb bullying is a good idea. It is unfortunate that the parents can’t help out managing recess. We live in such a litiguous society that the schools can’t risk allowing the parents to do it. So, that may be a reason why an already cash strapped system would consider outsourcing the monitoring.

The only part I thoroughly disagree with is anything remotely similar to “structured play”. Just let the kids play.

Not Going To Use My Usual Name

July 14th, 2010
8:11 am

I think the idea of a “recess coach” is a cipher.

If you were reasonably happy during recess in your childhood (or if your child is happy with unstructured outdoor play), then you think it’s overkill. If you were bullied or otherwise miserable (or your child struggles in these situations), you think it’s a great idea.

I’m with devildog here. You would be stunned at how elementary school teachers are treated during the school day. For the entire duration from 7-something a.m. to 2-something p.m., they cannot go to the bathroom. Seriously. They have to watch those kids every moment–and when the kids are going to the bathroom, they REALLY have to be monitoring them. Many schools even have elementary teachers sitting with their students during lunch, monitoring them. Those who let them have that break–well, it’s about 20 minutes.

It’s the “extras” (like art, music, phys ed) when elementary teachers get a break to breathe and go to the bathroom. Anything that adds a moment to their day for basic physical needs is a win in my book.


July 14th, 2010
8:15 am

I’m definitely for recess, even for high school kids. Everybody needs a short break during the day to take a break, get some sunshine and blow off some steam.

That said, this would be an EXCELLENT place for someone whose job was already conflict resolution in the high school. This person could do this during recess. Then they could assist guidance counselors, administrators and school social workers with the problems that are escalated to them by teachers.

Teachers should be able to do minimal conflict resolution in the classroom, but our primary job is to TEACH. This would free up some lunch duty time and also another venue to make things go more smoothly in schools.

Now, if it were only funded…


July 14th, 2010
8:19 am

I am SO happy my child is out of these freaking schools. This is totally unbelievable.

DeKalb County is outsourcing teachers now. Are there not enough teachers now? They laid off a ton of teachers, closed a few schools, now they are spending money to go overseas and look for teachers??? Great, just great. Let’s not take care of the unemployed here, let’s go overseas……

Re: the Dekalb County "outsourcing" for teachers

July 14th, 2010
8:25 am

You have to remember that the demographics in Dekalb play a huge part in who they hire as teachers, and they just are not able to hire qualified math and science teachers in the states who meet that “demographic criteria”; hence, they have no choice but to go outside the U.S. to find those who “look like the students” in order to get qualified teachers.

I found it amusing that the first thing they look at, after their math/science proficiency, is their ability to speak English…it is SO sad that they have to have teachers that “look like the children”, yet the NAACP thinks the Tea Party is racist…


July 14th, 2010
9:31 am

@ Jeff…you are too funny.

My son was bullied by 5th graders, as they had all started Kinder together at a brand new school and he was the new kid ( in September) . He went through #$%%. He was also taller and smarter than most of the other kids. Nothing physical but verbal assaults. The teacher called us in to let us know what she was trying to do for our son. It broke my heart but he endured it until the mix up again in middle school.

In HS, one boy came to him and apologized for his 5th grade behavior. That took a lot of guts and it meant a lot to my son.

Bullies need someone to bully them and those who hang with the pack need someone like you too…lol.


July 14th, 2010
11:13 am

This whole concept makes me feel like my head is going to explode! Our schools are DEEPLY in the hole money-wise, but we’re going to hire recess coaches?!?! Here’s a brilliant idea -let kids be kids. Let them sort things out and if one or two kids are being bullies -call them on it and punish them. Instead of recess coaches, teachers could use more para -pros so they could get help with a variety of things -including time to pee.

I didn’t always have a smooth time on the playground. I have lots of great memories and I also remember some months or years when this clique or that group or whoever zeroed in on me, but my friends and I handled it. I learned a lot on the playground WITHOUT ANY ADULT INTERVENTION!


July 14th, 2010
1:21 pm

Recess? Our Fulton elementary school maybe has 15 minutes a day. I don’t think a recess coach will help when there are bigger budget issues like losing 4th and 5th grade band and orchestra and teacher layoffs.


July 14th, 2010
1:42 pm

I think recess coaches are a great idea, as long as they are supporting recess and making it inclusive for kids who want to play. From what I see, that’s what the idea is, not to micromanage kids (which teachers have a hard time doing even in the classroom). Too many kids go to school with no experience playing with other kids because their neighborhoods are too violent, their parents work and they can’t play outside, or they are more intriuged with devices than playgrounds.

I also completely disagree with the researcher about the role of being excluded as being a motivation. Maybe for some, but have you ever heard a Nobel Prize thanking the person that excluded them from 4 square or the Oscar winner thanking those who picked her last?


July 14th, 2010
4:55 pm

@ no FCM…did you miss where I get generic or do just have selective reading issues?

Sk8ing Momma

July 14th, 2010
5:42 pm

Surely, this is a joke!?…Say it ain’t so!! You’ve got to be kidding me. This is an extension of helicopter parenting at its best. What a sad state of affairs. There are many valuable lessons/skills (cooperation, negotiation, creative expression, leadership) to be learned or honed during free play. IMO, many of those lessons will be/are lost with the intervention of an adult.

Looking back fondly on recess in the mid to late 1970s, I can’t fathom adult intervention. It’s just sad, sad, sad. :(


July 15th, 2010
7:05 am

But I thought the whole idea of recess was to get unstructured play time for kids during which time they could use their creativity, build relationships and “do their own thing.”


July 15th, 2010
8:02 am

I was just discussing this with a (childless) coworker because of the article in the paper this morning. I don’t think a recess coach is necessarily the solution, but perhaps more adults monitoring recess and intervening to teach social skills that are missing. In other words, reactive rather than proactive is (IMHO) more what is needed.

I think children are less equipped to handle conflicts because they haven’t learned the skills at an early age like previous generations. When I was little, my mom took me to a friend’s house (her friend) where several moms with little ones gathered for socializing (both theirs and the kids’). The moms were on hand to “coach” as necessary, so by the time we got to school, we had some idea of how to deal with conflict. Children now are usually in daycare instead of “mom groups”, and I don’t think they are getting the same guidance that we did. While we had free play on the floor, with mom (either yours or someone else’s) intervening to stop the fights and provide a quick friendship lesson, kids now are sitting in pre-school classrooms. They may be playing, but I don’t think they are getting lessons in social skills; rather, they are learning colors, numbers, and reading – what we waited until kindergarten to learn (or had picked up from Mom).

Just a thought :-)


July 15th, 2010
1:00 pm

Too late. Even this blog’s tag line “A daily guide to raising healthy children without going insane” is now guilty of violating that tag line by reporting on this silly, silly idea.

I’m with JJ, unfortunately not having my kids subject to this madness does not preclude my taxes from going towards paying for this insanity…..


July 15th, 2010
1:09 pm

HWAT A WASTE OF TAX $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ss


July 15th, 2010
1:11 pm



July 15th, 2010
1:12 pm

RECESS COACHES defeat the purpose of what is recess..


July 15th, 2010
1:43 pm

I don’t think there is a one size fits all solution. Some schools need a lot of help with recess. Some don’t. And in some schools a few small improvements would make recess more fun and more safe for the kids.

I’ve seen some schools where recess is pretty much chaos that kids just try to survive. Half the kids sit on the sidelines while a handful of kids dominate the games. And when there is a disagreement about anything, the kids who are playing will spend their precious 15 minutes of recess arguing about it. And when those kids get back into the classroom, those problems come with them, making it harder for teachers to teach. I have also seen trained adults work magic on those playgrounds by creating a completely different environment. The trouble makers actually become a positive influence on the playground. Kids spend all of their recess time playing and having fun rather than arguing. And you know its working for the kids, because the ones who used to sit on the sidelines play enthusiastically even though they are perfectly free to sit out if they want.

In schools where recess is a serious challenge, having a “recess coach” can make all the difference. But if recess is going great at your school, then schools obviously don’t need to anything different or special. If it’s somewhere in the middle, then maybe there are some tools and techniques that successful recess coaches are using that schools can adopt to make things a little safer, better and more fun for everyone.

The bottom line is that we know play is important to kids and that there is something special about recess that makes it such an important part of the school day. We all have a sense in our mind of what a happy, fun, healthy recess is like, and we all want that for our children, and for every child. Schools should be open to using whatever works for them to ensure that kids have a chance to experience that, knowing that different schools will need to approach things differently.


July 15th, 2010
2:19 pm

This is the result of taking corporal punishment out of schools. This is one reason I left Georgia, we could not bust their rear ends if they were out of line, bullying, etc. Bulllying has just gotten worse over the last 15 years, and that is part of restricting teachers and administrators roles of disciplinarians. Many parents today feel that teachers should raise their kids and are not teaching proper manners and respect to their children. We still bust their bottoms if they bully or send them home for 10 days and let them add up zeros and let them become the problem of the parent or guardian. Recess coaches are a joke. Let kids be kids. If a child bullies my child, I will take 3 days off to spend with my child at home after I give them permission to knock the crap out of another child that is initmidating or bullying them.

PE Teacher

July 15th, 2010
2:48 pm

I just finished my first year teaching PE at the elementary level- spent eight years in middle school. The biggest shock and transition for me was the fact that theses kids had no clue how to “PLAY”. I occasionally give them free days to pick equipment and play on their own or with others. The first half of the school year I had to basically teach them how do this by modeling and suggesting activities. Slowly I backed off as they learned to play independently. I’m happy to say that my students pretty much mastered it by year’s end. How strange the world is now.


July 18th, 2010
8:16 pm

I agree, PE teacher. They know how to stand around and eat snacks, but few know how to organize any play activity. We used to play kickball, or do feats of heroism on the “monkey bars” (Can we call them that without some group getting mad?) We’d jump rope, or play dodgeball, or four-square, or basketball. I have watched this devolution since I started teaching, 37 years ago.

Is there any county that can afford to hire playground monitors? A friend of mine, hubby high up in the service, served as a volunteer playground monitor at schools on the bases where they lived.

I remember when we just sent the kids out. Usually no adult went with them (I always did because I taught kindergarten) and when the teacher came out and blew the whistle everyone went back in.

Of course, now we have kids packed in like the proverbial sardines and playgrounds that are asphalt or with muddy/hardpacked areas. There can be 200 kids out there at a time with 8 teachers to supervise. We have trouble with equipment, too, as some of it can “hurt someone”. And these is no money for balls and jump ropes and someone comes on the weekend and tears down the basketball goals. Besides, it is hard to get anything going in the 15-20 minutes they have. They gotta have those snacks! We make money off that for special events!

I think we need to let kids get out and play twice a day. Those who start fights, for example, should be excluded into a “baby space” where their actions can be monitored more closely by a teacher or two, but let the other kids play! And don’t offer all this junk food–eating it takes too much time away from playing!

Some of the best (and hardest) lessons I learned in elementary school were on the playground. For example,I learned not to chase a boy who took my purse. They can always run faster, and the madder you get the better they like it.

Where I taught first, the 2-3 teachers on the playground would sit together up at the top of the hill and watch the kids and talk. It was very pleasant for teacher and children, who needed some time not so heavily supervised. Not a lot of equipment, but a large grassy and oak tree shaded area to run around in. I even saw a child organize a group into a prayer meeting and lead the most extraordinary prayer session I have ever seen!

One day decades ago one of my kindergarteners came up to me and said, “Ms. Catlady! The boys are chasing me!” I said, “Why do you think they are doing that?” to which she replied, “They think I am wearing a bra!” (giggle, giggle. She had an older sister.)

Another time, one of my brightest and generally outgoing students kept hanging around the teachers. Finally, I said, “Donna, go play. We are talking grown-up talk.” to which she replied, eyes big, “You mean you are talking in cursive!?” MJG, I know you will “get” this.