Can a Game of Tag Help Combat Bullying?

New research from Mathematica and Stanford shows a healthy recess can reduce bullying, improve learning time
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Strengthening recess transforms the school climate, paving the way for less bullying and more focus on learning, says a new study from Mathematica Policy Research and Stanford University. The randomized control trial specifically looked at what happened when schools partnered with Playworks, a national nonprofit that is currently providing healthy recess and other playtime to schools in 23 cities nationwide. 

Researchers found that investing in recess and organized play can prevent bullying, improve students' behavior at recess and readiness for class, and provide more time for teaching and learning. The study is one of the most rigorous scientific trials to find an effect on bullying in schools, and one of the first that evaluates a recess- and play-based program as a potentially promising school-based solution.

"Our research shows that Playworks makes a difference. Teachers in Playworks schools reported less bullying and exclusionary behavior during recess relative to control school teachers," said Susanne James-Burdumy, PhD, associate director of research at Mathematica. "Playworks also facilitated students' transitions back to classroom learning."

The study compared schools using Playworks to a control group of similar schools without the program during the 2010-2011 school year in five cities across the country. Researchers found the following ways in which Playworks improves the school climate:

  • Less Bullying. Teachers in Playworks schools reported less bullying and exclusionary behavior during recess than teachers in control schools.
  • Better Recess Behavior and Readiness for Class. Teachers at Playworks schools tended to report better student behavior at recess and readiness for class than teachers at control schools, and they were more likely to report that their students enjoyed adult-organized recess activities.
  • More Time for Teaching. Teachers in Playworks schools reported having fewer difficulties and spending significantly less time transitioning to learning activities after recess than teachers in control schools. Playworks students were also more likely than control students to report better behavior and attention in class after sports, games and play.
  • Safer SchoolsTeachers in Playworks schools perceived that students felt safer and more included at recess, compared to teachers in control schools. 
  • Satisfied Teachers. Nearly 100 percent of teachers in Playworks schools reported that they wanted the program in their school again the following year.

"This research confirms what we have seen as schools across the nation partner with Playworks to provide kids with healthy play every day. These new findings, taken together with existing data, tell us that kids better relate with one another, resolve conflicts constructively, get plenty of physical activity on the playground and return to class focused and ready to learn," saidNancy Barrand, special advisor for program development at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). "Increasingly, health and education leaders are recognizing that recess and play are effective ways to strengthen schools and foster children's social, emotional and physical development."

This new research, sponsored by RWJF, contributes to a growing body of evidence that a safe, healthy recess environment is a key driver of better behavior and learning.

"For our education system to succeed, our schools need to be able to create the conditions for learning," said Jill Vialet, CEO and founder of Playworks. "The good news is that we've developed a model that can be replicated almost anywhere and produces positive and measurable results."

Download the research findings