Summit on the Power of Play

The Ohio Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics (Ohio AAP)
Home and School Health Committee and the Cincinnati Pediatric Society invite you to our Summit on the Power of Play 
Thursday, June 13, 2019 from 10:00 AM-12:00 PM at Cincinnati Children’s Sabin Hall at Liberty Center. (7539 Haskell Street, Liberty Twp, OH 45069) 

“The truth is that play seems to be one of the most advanced methods nature has invented to allow a complex brain to create itself.”  ― Stuart Brown, 
Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.

I will be facilitating this summit! I am so very excited to be leading the discussion about how we in Ohio can elevate opportunities for play for all children, from birth through adolescence. We will discuss where, when and how play is currently occurring. AND, importantly, we will explore how we can collaborate to expand on what we have and create new systems, facilities and practices.

Confirm your participation by registering here. 

The Ohio AAP Home and School Health Committee brings together a group of child health and wellness professionals from across the state to discuss and take action on important topics impacting the lives of children. As a leader involved in this issue, we invite you and your colleagues to join us on Thursday, June 13, 2019 for collaborative action on promoting play.  

In this meeting we will work in small groups and as a larger collaborative to: 

1)    Describe the benefits of play for development and overall wellbeing   

2)   Identify assets and barriers to play

3)   Determine collaborative opportunities to expand awareness about the power of play

4)   Create action plans which capitalize on assets and overcome barriers to increase play and encourage free time

Please share this invitation throughout your network! If you have any questions, please contact Renee Dickman at

Recess in YOUR school

I am actively seeking at least one school to partner with in the 2019-2021 school years to conduct action research on recess. Working together, we will explore and document your school’s current state of recess and play, to identify assets and barriers and then work from the inside to build on the assets and address those barriers. We will explore two broad themes:

Empty swings…how many of your students miss out on the opportunity to enjoy play?

What is getting in the way of play at recess; i.e., what are the challenges for teachers and administrators, and what is needed to overcome these?

How can your school adapt to provide recess that is safe, organized and inclusive for every child, a recess that is supportive of the child’s overall learning, where they are able to engage and create connections with each other, to play?

This research is being conducted in collaboration with Dr. Lauren McNamara, the founder and director of the Recess Project in Canada (Ontario). Through action research, interviews, observations, she explored the experience of recess from the children’s perspective. Her work asked the questions about why? and what kind of play is happening. It revealed that recess is a place for bullying, the time when children are isolated, they are minimized, they are separated from one another; they are unable to connect with one another. This is occurring at a regular rate. There was a noted barrenness of the environment, and minimal supervision was occurring, there were no toys or games available, which serves to elevate the level of bullying. She realized if we can change the setting, we can change the experience at recess. (see her article) This is how The Recess Project was born. 
I anticipate we will find many similarities with Lauren’s work, but that by working within one school, we may come up with different solutions, that would be valuable lessons for recess and play in schools.

SO, I’m hopeful to find a school that is willing to make the commitment in terms of personnel and other resources for assessment, implementation and sustainability. The only other requirement is that it is an elementary school. Ideally, I will find a school that is serving children and families with elevated poverty levels, but in reality, every school faces challenges to meaningful play at recess (and academic pressures are often a barrier). There are many factors that impede play and recess. If you or your school are interested in participating in this type of research, contact me directly. We can get started this summer to ensure every child at your school has joyful recess every day.

I am a teacher

Back in 2007, during my coursework for my PhD, I had the great privilege of learning with/from Dr. Miriam Raider-Roth at the University of Cincinnati, in a year-long, three-part Action Research course. Miriam encouraged us to reflect on the roots of our inquiries–the reasons we were curious about whatever we were researching–and to write about our core philosophy. I wrote the following reflection. It remains true today, and I share it now, with a note of gratitude to Miriam and all the other amazing teachers I have been blessed to learn and know with, from my first-grade teacher Mrs. Frey to my junior high history teacher Miss Ruehl, to Dr. Jay Baird at Miami University who wrote “you should consider being a history major” on my first-ever “bluebook” exam. And, to all my teachers outside the walls fo a classroom: my parents, my colleagues, my children, my husband.

I have been a “teacher” for all of my adult life. I say “teacher” in quotation marks because my classroom did not begin and currently does not reside in the walls of an institution for children, with grades “K” through twelve, nor is my classroom confined to the “three R’s.” Often, in fact, in response to articles and questions about teacher-research, my first response was, “I am not a teacher.” However, upon further reflection, I own the idea: “I am a teacher. I am a Health Educator.” That I could call myself an educator and not think of myself as a teacher is only partly due to the image in my own head that “teachers” are for little kids, in schools, and “educators” are for adults, for professors in institutions of “higher education.” In expanding my definition to the way I have lived as a teacher, my classroom and my audience have been varied. My classroom has been my playroom with my children, when I home-schooled my daughter and two boys for pre-kindergarten; the hallway, when I tutored first graders in reading and fourth-graders in math. It is now the front of the studio, when I teach group fitness classes; the podium, when I teach coaches, physicians and physical therapists about sports training; the classroom, when I teach undergraduate students about health. In every setting, with each audience, sharing of information occurred, knowledge was constructed—I was, I am, a teacher.

I subscribe to the constructivist philosophy, as both a challenge to the positivist scientific search for “Truth” and as a way of learning and knowing, which has been informed and shaped most notably by Buchanan (2006), Dewey (1897), Duckworth (2001), Kuhn (1962), and Raider-Roth (2005). The duality and interconnection in this perspective lies at the core of how I teach: course objectives and pedagogy are firmly rooted in constructivist teaching and learning strategies which ideally are interwoven with and meld into collaborative teacher-student-research. As a teacher in the undergraduate classroom, being a constructivist means I encourage and invite active engagement with topics and information by, among and between the students and each other, and with me, so that each learner/student comes to a new understanding, a new level of knowing (Brooks, 1990; Horton & Freire, 1990; Raider-Roth, 2005). It is especially important that the students understand their own learning processes as I believe they are the ones ultimately responsible for their own learning (e.g., Brooks, 1990; Brooks & Brooks, 1999). I recognize myself as a kinesthetic and tactile learner, and I instruct through hands-on exploration, discovery, reflection (both personal and shared) and guided critical writing and dialogue. My whole intent—at the heart of my teaching philosophy—is that students (especially adult, college students) are the owners of their learning and my role is to facilitate their co-learning with and in the presence of each other. When I teach undergraduates, I encourage, entice and require students to engage with each other, the teacher and their life outside the classroom to develop their own knowledge within their current beliefs (Brooks, 1990; Brooks & Brooks, 1999; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2001; Horton & Freire, 1990). Formative assessment, self-reflective assignments, small group discussions (in person and on-line) support and guide students in their learning and understanding.

Stemming from, yet embodied within, my constructivist teaching philosophy is the concept of teaching as research (Duckworth, 2006); of teaching with an “inquiry stance”, a phrase coined by Cochran-Smith & Lytle (2001), which invited teachers to come to a closer understanding of their own practice. This inquiry stance involves an orientation that knowledge is on-going and contextual; a willingness to question one’s own practices; and an openness about how such inquiry produces knowledge and relates to practice.  In sum, an inquiry stance is roughly equivalent to teaching as praxis, in the Aristotlean context of thinking about or reflecting upon one’s practice to improve practice. At the core of this stance is genuine care and concern that I teach “well”, meaning to impact, guide, facilitate, and lead students toward intrinsic motivation, deeper engagement and construction of knowledge. Teaching well is not about me. It is about my students. It is about their learning, and my learning right along with them about how to create curriculum and design classes/lessons that support students. It is my larger, more important goal to give them an understanding of the material, to build knowledge that they will find useful and that they will go forth and build upon. I want to give them the tools and opportunities to assess themselves, and to know what they learned, and have that be important to them. The need for teachers to understand their students’ sense of the material, and the students’ engagement in the material is at the heart of a teacher’s pedagogical and curriculum decisions (Freeman, 1998, Stiggins, 2008). I continually re-assess and inquire about my students’ learning as well as their learning experience, and I am dedicated to establishing truly learning-fostering relationships in my classroom, wherever my classroom might be.

As a Health Educator, facts and information are abundant when it comes to health, with many sources of “Truth” such that the pressures of time and “needing to cover the material” will always be in tension with establishing meaningful knowledge. Part of my role is to understand what my students (or patients, clients or participants) already know and understand about their own health to support their ability to come to new understanding and respond to challenges to their health. Recognizing our shared humanness allows me to operate from the stance of, “I don’t know what YOU know—teach me,” thus providing a rich context for information and shared meaning making.

Researching Recess…2019

Girls playing on a seesaw. 1997

After our work published in 2010, Dr. Murray shared our findings with the American Academy of Pediatrics. He proposed that our work be the foundation for the AAP to create a policy statement on recess. Dr. Murray navigated the procedures and many Councils in the AAP as we continued to search the literature for updates. On 12/31/12, the AAP Policy Statement on Recess was released supporting recess for every child—no child should have recess withheld for any reason. 

Since then, I have had the privilege to conduct research with teachers and students in partnership with Dr. Dale B. Fink of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. I have interviewed teachers and administrators, observed recesses and transitions; I have participated in teacher PD with The LiiNK Project, under the direction of Dr. Debbie Rhea at TCU—she was instrumental in bringing Dr. Pasi Sahlberg to teach future and current educators in Texas. Dr. Debbie grounded The LiiNK Project in the Finnish model and, having observed LiiNK schools in person, I attest to the success of this model; the research bears out this success in the impact on student achievement and teacher satisfaction on every indicator measured. There have been marked successes in recess…BUT, there are so many other schools—so many other children—who are not experiencing healthy, safe, inclusive and meaningful recesses! 

The need for continued advocacy around recess is even more pressing today. We need advocacy for policy AND practice. Sure, there are policy initiatives, in state legislatures and across some districts, and a burgeoning awareness from educators about the value of recess, especially in the area of social emotional learning, but at the school—or classroom level—policy and awareness are not translating into practice (and/or policy is put into place without considering how to prepare teachers and the school systems to adapt practices). My next phase of work is to conduct action research with individual schools in Ohio to explore this: What is getting in the way of play at recess; i.e., what are the challenges for teachers and administrators, and what is needed to overcome these? How can a school adapt to provide recess that is safe, organized and inclusive for every child, a recess that is supportive of the child’s overall learning, where they are able to engage and create connections with each other, to play? If you or your school are interested in participating in this type of research, contact me directly. We can get started this summer to ensure every child at your school has joyful recess every day.

PAXTools Community Education

I completed PAXTools training Friday 4/5/19 and am now a licensed Community Educator for PAXTools, which is “a collection of evidence-based, trauma-informed strategies to improve cooperation and self-regulation with youth. PAXTools draws on decades of science to create strategies that support parents, youth workers, and other caring adults to create a nurturing environment that ultimately helps kids thrive!”

What this means is that I can provide training for youth workers, parents, and other community members to support our children in developing self-regulation, and resilient social-emotional behaviors that allow children (and families) to thrive in our increasingly more stressful communities. The premise of PAX tools is that we have been implicit in teaching children (and thus ourselves) self-coping, healthy, supportive social-emotional behaviors; that we have learned and now teach our children through error response (“do NOT do that!”) and/or through punitive retribution, which is often housed in our emotional, knee-jerk response (extreme—but true—example: putting your teen’s iPhone in the Ninja and making an iPhone smoothie). 

PAX Tools and the training help adults see these strategies as less than effective, and provides alternative approaches grounded in over 35 years of research. Keys include being consistent, reliable and explicit in setting expectations for behavior, responding with low emotion when things go south, and using a mindset of restorative discipline when behaviors are harmful to self or others. Many schools around the country and in Ohio are already engaging in these strategies (Paxis Good Behavior Game) and PAX Tools supplements and reinforces pro-social behaviors in the home; but PAX Tools training is also invaluable for anyone working with or parenting children! If you are in Hamilton, Butler, Clermont or Warren Counties in Ohio, and are interested in training for your organization (VBS, youth group, after-school programs, etc.) please contact me directly. To find a PAX Tools trainer in your area, visit:

Researching recess since 2007

I’ve been researching recess since 2007, during my first year of doctoral training. I started researching recess because I went to a talk by Dr. Joe Thompson in Columbus Ohio Dr. Joe Thompson was what some people might call the surgeon general of the state of Alabama—he was in that role under Governor Huckabee.  Alabama was one of the first states that adopted legislation to address the childhood obesity crisis; In 2006, in a bi-partisan effort, Alabama lawmakers had written a two-page document that required 30 minutes of physical activity for every child during the school day (in addition to PE) in elementary schools along with requirements for healthy food at school. Hearing Joe Thompson talk about what they were doing in Alabama inspired me. 

I met Dr. Bob Murray that day. Dr. Bob Murray is a pediatrician and would become my co-researcher, co-writer, and ultimately, co-author on recess.  I was invited to the talk by my father, who is also a pediatrician (now retired). Dr. Murray and my dad were members of the Ohio chapter the American Academy of pediatrics Home and School Health Committee, which was instrumental in bringing Dr. Thompson to Ohio. I was invited to join the committee as a non-pediatrician member, of which there are several of us on the HASH committee (we’ve been through different iterations of that name but that is our current name). We were all very intrigued by the way the schools in Alabama had responded to ensure children were being physically active (from more recess, to in-class exercise breaks, to students getting dropped off the bus 1/2 mile from school and walking together at the start and end of each school day with their classmates. As a committee, we discussed ways we might support similar initiatives in Ohio; I was especially curious as to how recess could be one of those components to contribute to a child’s physical activity during the day. The HASH committee agreed it was a topic of interest, so I took the lead and volunteered to do the literature review, which took about a year as I was still in school. Dr. Murray and Dr. Garner assisted with reviewing the research and synthesizing what I was finding.

I remember the “a-ha moment” when we realized recess was so much more than an opportunity for moderate vigorous physical activity during the school day: it contributed to the child’s overall growth and development. Our research showed that recess was an opportunity for children to practice and engage with each other in social emotional learning—we didn’t call it that, we used the terms  interpersonal skills and conflict resolution; we called it creativity. The research was clear: recess “serves a critical role in school as a necessary break from the  rigors of academic challenges. Recess is a complement to, not a replacement for, physical education. Both promote activity and a healthy lifestyle; however, recess—particularly unstructured recess and free play—provides a unique contribution to a child’s creative, social, and emotional development. From the perspective of children’s health and well-being, recess time should be considered a child’s personal time and should not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons.” Our first publication was in Journal of School Health in November of 2010.

Classroom practices support optimum recess

Today, I read Dina Strasser’s article, Creating Classrooms That Teach the Whole Kid about creating collaborative classrooms. She writes that teaching is “about the whole kid – the entire kit and caboodle of what they need to know to be happy, healthy, contributing members of society. As a result, respectful, fruitful collaboration among students is not “nice” for your kids to master before they make their own way in the world – it is absolutely necessary. It’s especially necessary when problems get in the way of our goals.”

She describes 3 classroom processes to create this kind of learning experience. Include students in creating classroom norms; this can occur in any classroom, and I would add that these classroom norms be built on any school initiatives (e.g., PBIS language or other school-wide positive actions). The students can have the opportunity to think through the school-wide expectations in connection with their peers and in turn better see their own role in upholding the norms. Secondly, practice language that respectfully asks for clarification, or express disagreement with others. Strasser suggests also posting these “sentence starters” so kids can see them, and refer to the posting often. Model their use. Finally, when kids make poor decisions, violate the norms or otherwise disrupt learning, use the incident as a restorative opportunity: walk the student through their feelings and thoughts that led to their actions and include the student in finding a way to repair the harm, to self or others.

When I read this article, I reflected that these kinds of classroom processes can be furthered in play at recess, and will simultaneously help foster a recess that is safe and inclusive—an optimum recess where children are able to autonomously engage with each other. The classroom environment will extend to the playground where children are able to practice collaborative, problem-solving interactions with peers outside the classroom.

Why recess?

Recess is the time during the school day when children can play. It is as essential to the school—to the child—as the subjects of math, reading, and science, and all the other academic subjects. These subjects teach children about our world and help them to understand it. Recess, and the play that occurs at recess, helps children learn about themselves and each other, and their place in the world—and helps them to understand the interconnectedness of human beings with each other and the world.

Read more about what children say about recess.

Supporting teachers to be ready for recess

As part of the research my colleague Dr. Dale B. Fink and I are doing, we surveyed and interviewed teachers about their perspectives on recess. 100% of the teachers indicated at least one benefit of recess, but many still take it away. Nearly all of these teachers wish they had other ways to motivate their students, as they clearly do not question the intrinsic value of recess time. Teachers expressed a need for support in developing alternatives to withholding recess. 

It is imperative for schools (and teacher education programs) to address this: to include recess as an integral part of a child’s learning, and to provide teachers with the time, the support and the skills to ensure recess time is a non-negotiable part of the day—right up there with reading and math. Read more in our article “Ready for Recess” published in American Educator.

Practice Joy for Our Kids

I’ve been reading a lot about the social-emotional mental-health supports around our students in schools, whether it be the language we use, different systems in place, or different resources available in and affiliated with the schools. And as I think about all of this, and thinking about the teachers and the staff—the people who are with our children every day— perhaps we need to take a step back and just look at ourselves. We know children model what they see in us as adults, so to me we need to take advice from this little four-year-old, and practice Joy. Model it for our children and embrace it for ourselves. Practice Joyful Living Daily #PJLD #Joy

Practicing Joyful Living Daily. MED