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The Power of Play

Playworks Arizona Teaches Kids How Fun and Games are More Than Just Fun and Games

Seeing kids romp and frolic with pals on grassy fields appears to be an ordinary component of childhood.

But ask Playworks Arizona Executive Director Kerryann Tomlinson and she’ll tell you how these scenarios bear much more significance.

Through programs that encourage safe and inclusive play, the nonprofit Playworks helps get kids active, build social skills and develop relationships with peers. The results are literally life-changing.

Simply put, they unleash the underestimated power of play.  

“The act of play is helping kids to communicate and show respect and leadership for each other,” Kerryann says. “Something that seems as simple as play can do all of that for a child and I see it every day in our program.”

Playworks accomplishes this by training faculty and staff at elementary schools and youth organizations in its techniques and games. It also provides onsite adult coaches, if requested. Several Chandler elementary schools and ICAN are among the nearly 200 schools and organizations across the state that Playworks Arizona has partnered with since launching in 2011.

Based in Oakland, Playworks was founded in 1995. The Arizona region is one of 16 across the nation.

With packed school schedules and tech gadgets that detain kids in their rooms for hours, the once-routine play element is in danger of disappearing. Playworks battles this with good old-fashioned sessions that spark communication and social skills that also prove beneficial in adulthood.

Tag is among Playworks’ most popular games. But it’s not your parents’ tag. Or possibly not even your tag. In fact, Playworks has 90 versions of the game that lacks the roughness but packs all the fun. Instead of hard hits or shoves in the back, tags are made with fluttering butterfly fingers on arms and shoulders. In Zombie Tag, kids walk to their targets like zombies. In Frozen Tag, tagged kids must freeze until a pal comes to unfreeze them. The options are endless and keep everyone engaged.

The program’s flexibility means kids can put their own spin on tradition, which is empowering. For example, they use the Foursquare template to include adding colors, names or animals so they aren’t just bouncing a ball and instead using mental capacity and memory.

Kids learn to resolve competitive ties or disputes with a single round of Rock Paper Scissors. The “Good job, nice try buddy” that Playworks encourages on the playground has gone beyond. Kerryann has heard kids say this to each other in non-play situations and witnessed Rock Paper Scissors resolutions.                          

“I was like, it really works!” she says. “Campuses are transformed.”

The results have been powerful. Kids that perennially wound up in the principal’s office reversed that pattern. Some became junior coaches who embraced leadership roles even when not on the playground.

There’s one young lady who used to spend most of her non-school hours at home with no social network of friends. She became a Playworks junior coach and one of the program’s best success stories with her work with younger children. Now, she teaches neighborhood kids the games she’s learned and built many friendships that she never had before.

This story especially touches Kerryann’s heart. The girl’s mother personally thanked her.

“This allows a child to elevate their voice and feel confident. Kids have the opportunity to lead other kids so they can help their peers on the playground,” Kerryann says. “This is why we are passionate about what play can do.”

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  • Playworks Arizona Executive Director Kerryann Tomlinson surrounded by kids.
  • Playworks Arizona Executive Director Kerryann Tomlinson gets engaged in a game.