Recess revamp: Manitou Park Elementary uses play time to teach big lessons

Manitou Park Elementary Principal Lauren Taylor has a lot of crazy ideas.

Before her students started coming back to campus in January, she wanted a new plan for what recess would look like. Knowing COVID-19 guidelines for health and safety would require changes at recess, she saw it as the perfect time to work in some of her own “crazy ideas” to mesh with those guidelines, she said.

“I wanted different options to keep kids engaged. Recess is a learning opportunity,” Taylor said. “They’re literally learning through play how to be a friend, how to collaborate, how to be a leader.”

Taylor secured grant funding for two AmeriCorps members to join the Manitou team helping, in part, with supervision during recess. They’ll receive training from Playworks, an organization that teaches schools how to bring safe, meaningful play to recess with the goal of creating a climate and belief that each kid can become a leader and role model.

Can all of that happen through time on the playground?

Absolutely, according to Taylor, who saw that scenario play out at while she was a teacher and instructional coach at DeLong Elementary. 

“Students often don’t know what to do at recess, so that’s when we see behavior incidents increase,” Taylor said. “It’s important to have developmentally appropriate play skills.”

Using the Playworks training at DeLong, the whole school learned how to solve conflict with simple games. Can’t figure out who goes first or who gets which ball? Time to “Rock it Out” by playing rock, paper, scissors. It’s a simple but effective method, Taylor said – and it transfers to conflicts inside the building.

Later this month, Playworks staff will train Manitou’s recess team, including the two AmeriCorps members, how to use games like that to help empower their student body.

Taylor is also using the adjacent Manitou Park to make the most of recess time for her students. With help from the Pierce Conservation District and the Tacoma Tree Foundation, her students get nature tours of the park, a two-fold benefit of providing social distancing at recess and giving kids the chance to learn about the surrounding environment.

Maybe those ideas aren’t so crazy after all.


Media Contact

Dan Voelpel, Executive Director of Communications | 253-571-1015 |

About Tacoma Schools

Tacoma Public Schools is the only district designated an Innovation Zone by Washington State. A leader in implementing innovative schools and programs to meet the diverse needs of every student, every day, TPS serves approximately 30,000 students from preschool to grade 12 and at nearly 5000 employees is one of the largest employers in Tacoma. Learn more...


Read more Tacoma Public Schools stories . . . . .

Follow Tacoma Public Schools on Facebook