Presentation at the 2014 Active Living Research Annual Conference.
Background and Purpose
Recess has been reduced or eliminated in many schools across the U.S. and these declines have disproportionately affected low-income minority students in urban areas (Barros, Silver and Stein 2009). These findings are problematic, since research suggests that physical activity and structured play during recess may improve academic and behavioral outcomes in youth (CDC 2010). Playworks is a school-based program that places full-time coaches in low-income schools with high-minority populations to provide opportunities for organized play during recess. This current study evaluates the impact of Playworks on play, physical activity, and recess activities.
In this presentation, we will present findings from a randomized controlled trial of Playworks. We will focus on outcomes that measure the impact of Playworks on play, physical activity, and recess collected from multiple data sources, including student surveys, teacher surveys, structured recess observations, and accelerometers. We will discuss the implications of the significant (and non-significant) impacts on increasing physical activity levels in minority youth populations.
Twenty-nine schools (17 treatment schools, 12 control schools) from six cities across the U.S. were recruited for a rigorous, random assignment evaluation of the Playworks program. Schools were grouped into blocks based on time-invariant, school-level characteristics and then randomly assigned to either the treatment condition (implementation of Playworks during the school year, either 2010-11 or 2011-12) or a control condition (delayed implementation of Playworks until after the study). Data were collected in spring 2011 and 2012 to document the implementation and impact of Playworks on key outcomes related to play, physical activity, and recess. A brief description of the data sources and sample sizes are as follows:
Student Survey. A total of 2,331 students from 119 4th- and 5th-grade classrooms participated. Items assessed physical activity during recess, recess activities, interactions at recess, and perceptions of recess.
Teacher Survey. A total of 296 teachers participated. Items assessed student physical activity during recess, student interactions at recess, and perceptions of student feelings about recess.
Accelerometers. A total of 1,579 students from 98 4th- and 5th-grade classrooms wore Actigraph GT3X accelerometers for 10 or more minutes during recess on one or two school days. The accelerometers recorded intensity counts and the number of steps taken. Accelerometer intensity counts were also used to construct outcomes measuring the time students spent in sedentary, light, moderate, and vigorous activity during recess.
Structured Recess Observations. Six observations were conducted at each school, using the System for Observing Play and Leisure Activity (SOPLAY). Observations were conducted in designated zones of the play area and captured information on recess equipment, student physical activity levels, and types of activities.
Accelerometer data showed that Playworks had a positive impact on students’ physical activity during recess. Students in treatment schools engaged in physical activity during recess that was, on average, more intense than the physical activity engaged in by control group students. Students in treatment schools also spent significantly more time engaged in vigorous physical activity during recess than students in control schools. Based on recess observations, a higher percentage of recess activities at control schools were classified as sedentary compared to treatment schools. However, the recess observations did not find a significant difference between treatment and control schools in terms of the percentage of students that were engaging in moderate or vigorous physical activity. Playworks had a positive impact on some of the teacher survey outcomes. Teachers in treatment schools were more likely to report better student behavior at recess and a smoother transition back to class than teachers in control schools. A higher percentage of teachers in treatment schools, compared with control schools, also agreed or strongly agreed that their students enjoyed adult-organized activities at recess and felt ownership over their activities during recess.
We found some evidence that Playworks has a positive impact on play, physical activity, and recess. However, we also found no significant differences between treatment and control schools based on some outcome measures.
Implications for Practice and Policy
Educators, especially those in schools and districts located in low-income, high minority areas, should consider the benefits of recess and, more specifically, the benefits of Playworks in increasing students’ physical activity.
Barros RM, Silver EJ and Stein RE. “School Recess and Group Classroom Behavior.” Pediatrics, 123(2): 431—436, 2009.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance.” Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010.
Support / Funding Source
This project was funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.