Remaking Recess featured in "Autism Spectrum News"

Check out this article on Remaking Recess from the Autism Spectrum News. 

With the rising cost of educational services for these children and fiscal challenges that school districts face, it is imperative to identify cost-effective autism-related interventions that are easily implemented and sustained in schools. [...] Remaking Recess was developed to address the significant difficulties that children with ASD encounter on school playgrounds. 

Read the full article here

Three Engaging Games for Indoor Recess

By Mark Kretzmann

Photo by DC_Colombia/iStock / Getty Images

At many elementary schools indoor recess is common.  The weather, the location, and other factors may lead to recess being held inside the school building. Indoor recess is challenging but it is also an opportunity to help children practice unique social skills.  Here are three fun, engaging, commercially available indoor games that children generally like to play together.  These games are affordable, easy to learn, accommodate more than two players and are popular across multiple settings which allows children to generalize their skills to the home or community.  These games can still be used if they are missing a part or slightly damaged and no batteries are required.  remakingrecess.org does not sell or profit from these games.  We only recommend them.  Of course, there are many other fun, cost-effective options to support peer engagement.

Twister:  Twister is a classic game played on a plastic mat showing colored circles in a grid.  A spinner tells the players where to put their hands and feet.  Twister has simple rules allowing children to practice body control in close proximity to peers without a lot of instruction.  A good way to introduce a beginner to the game is to allow them to spin the spinner and observe the gameplay.  Twister is affordable retailing for under $20, and durable.  The plastic mat can easily be cleaned and the game can be played without the spinner if necessary.  Twister is produced by Hasbro.

Jenga:  Jenga is a block stacking/removing game.  Players take turns removing blocks from a block tower and placing them on the top.  Play continues until a player topples the tower.  Jenga allows many players and it holds  their attention because they don't want to miss the moment when the tower falls.  Jenga is available for about $15.  The blocks are simple and durable and the game can still be played if a few blocks are missing.  Multiple sets of Jenga can be combined.  Jenga is produced by Hasbro.

Uno:  Uno is a popular card game where players start with seven cards and take turns discarding cards based on the color or number of the card topping the discard pile.  There are wild cards and a few other fun specialty cards incorporated into the otherwise simple, colorful deck of cards.  Uno is easy to play and fast moving.  An Uno deck can be used even if it is missing cards.  Retailing for around $8 it's a great buy for indoor recess.  Uno is produced by Mattel.

Reading at Recess

Amanda Forest Vivian is an Autistic musician and support worker. She also writes the blog I'm Somewhere Else: http://adeepercountry.blogspot.com/

In fourth grade, I was starting at a new school--a public school instead of the Montessori school I had attended since kindergarten.  On the first day of school, my parents were anxious to hear how everything had gone.

I told them things had gone pretty well; one of the best parts was recess.  Instead of the playground we had at my old school, we had recess on a blacktop that was set into the side of a hill.  Kids stood around and talked or played counting and jumping games.  As for me, I sat on the hill, looking up at the blue sky and the chain-link fence which thrilled me for some reason, and watched as some seagulls flew around and occasionally landed on the blacktop.  I was excited by them because I could pretend they were the characters from the Animorphs books, who could turn into any animal.  Sitting on the hill, I felt joyful, dreamy, and hopeful.

I realized my mistake when my mom said sternly, “Are you telling me that you spent recess imagining aboutAnimorphs?”  As usual, I’d been caught enjoying the wrong leisure activity.

Starting in first grade, my favorite thing to do was read--sometimes the same books over and over (the really good books got eaten), but also all sorts of random books and articles in magazines and encyclopedias. Many attempts to take me to psychiatrists were foiled when I spent the appointment reading all the books and magazines in the doctor’s office.  Next, I liked to spend my time in fevered, pseudo-religious daydreams, usually accompanied by sensory feedback like jumping, shooting around underwater in the pool at summer camp, or sitting alone on the schoolbus while I watched the trees and roads zoom by in a colorful blur.  But everyone made it clear I was supposed to put these activities aside and throw myself into the dubious magic of friendship.

In fifth grade, I had a teacher named Mrs. A. about whom I thought, “She’s just like one of those inspirational teachers in books.”  It wasn’t a compliment.  She could be unusually fair sometimes and was dedicated to her work, but she was also tough and strict like her fictional counterparts.  Mrs. A. loved to tell the story of how she had out-stubborned a little boy who threw up whenever he was upset.  She made him clean up his own vomit and then, she said proudly, he never threw up again.

On the first day after winter vacation, Mrs. A. came up with a new idea to keep me in line. She decided that every morning, I had to give her the book I had brought to school and I couldn’t have it back until the end of the day.  She explained to me that this was so I would have to talk to the other kids in my free time instead of reading.

This bothered me, not just because I had to give up the book, but because I did talk to other kids and enjoyed doing so. I had friends in class, some of whom I just saw in class and others who I’d see outside of school.  I didn’t feel lonely, except that I sometimes wanted my friendships to be different (I wanted to talk about feelings and personal experiences more, and also about books).  I felt satisfied by the amount of time I spent with other kids; it was the adults observing me who weren’t satisfied.

Lest this turn into a typical autism memoir about how quirky l am, I better admit that reading and daydreaming were tied into a lot of real problems.  I would try to read in situations where you just can’t have a book in front of your face, like when I was crossing the street, getting a haircut, or at the dentist.  I also didn’t see the problem in just checking out of reality when someone was trying to talk to me about something.  In first grade, I literally refused to do anything but read (you can get pretty far with that at Montessori school).  Worst of all, being jerked out of reading or daydreaming was so startling that I’d explode at whoever tried to transition me.

So, it wasn’t that I should have been allowed to read and daydream all the time because I also needed to get dressed, eat, and get an education.  I also benefitted from getting to know other people.  And it was a big problem that I couldn’t manage my reaction to being interrupted, because it meant that I was at least rude, and at most physically aggressive.  All in all, I needed to be able to set boundaries around my favorite leisure activities and understand that they couldn’t be prioritized over my responsibilities as a person.  This is all stuff that by fourth grade, I was starting to understand; I didn’t want to blow up at other people and even though I liked my trances, I didn’t want to spend the whole day in one.

However, the constant harping that I wasn’t doing the right things with my free time just led me to feel confused and like there was something wrong with me.  I don’t feel there is a wrong thing to do with your free time, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.  I also feel like my desire to do these things, which is still present, comes from a genuine need for activities that are wholly predictable and undemanding. For some people, being in social situations doesn’t feel like “leisure” because it takes too much concentration.  It is time-sensitive and involves many kinds of processing, so you have to work hard to stay on top of it.  Even if it’s fun, it can be overwhelming to do it for too long, and it can make you more tired instead of less tired--which makes it a poor excuse for recess.

Understanding Classroom Social Networks

By Jill Locke

Do you know who your child's friends are in his or her classroom?

classroomsocialnetworkkasariUCLA.jpg

By asking children to privately write down who likes to hang out together we can reveal a social network of their classroom’s peer groupings that indicates: 1) who's connected to whom, and 2) the strength of that relationship. Four different classifications are possible that will help you understand a child’s social salience in the classroom. Children can be considered “isolates”, which means they do not belong to any peer group in the classroom or peripheral, which means they are in the bottom 30% of their classroom’s social structure. Children also can be secondary, which means they are very well connected in their classroom (the middle 40%) or nuclear, which means they are highly salient and within the top 30% of their classroom’s social structure. It is important for all children to be connected to at least one other child in their classroom to promote healthy social development.

Pictured above is a map of a real classroom's social network. All of the names have been changed. Each line represents a connection between children. The number in parentheses represents the number of times that child was nominated to any peer group, or his/her individual salience. The number among the lines is the child’s group salience, which determines how well connected the peer group is overall. Joe is a student with autism. Both he and Bailey are considered isolates. Felipe and Brian are considered peripheral as they were infrequently nominated (1) time each and have a group salience of (1) as well. Valery and Zara are considered secondary, whereas Jessica and Lily are considered nuclear given their high individual salience (10) and (12), respectively, and high group salience (11). Understanding social networks and the power dynamics within a classroom is an important way to learn more about your child’s social development. And remember, there are ways to improve social network inclusion – is your child, isolated, peripheral, secondary, or nuclear?

Counting "Everyone" in the Everyone Category

An 11-year-old student named Harriet wrote an insightful essay with the above title on her observations about an apparently neurodiverse classmate, Eleanor, at her new school. She powerfully describes that Eleanor’s exclusion from activities and the unfair treatment toward her means “Eleanor isn’t even counted enough as a person/student in my class to be included in the ‘everyone’ category.” Furthermore, Harriet brightly suggests practices, such as in use of paraprofessionals, generally aligned with Remaking Recess: “If there has to be an aide to help a student, he wouldn’t be there for any one person; the aide would help everyone. If any kid was having a hard time, the aide would check-in.” Indeed, she helped to inspire the “Flying Solo, or Birds of a Feather Stick Together” post on this blog through this pearl of wisdom: “Wherever you are in the world, everyone should feel comfort and belonging knowing that you always have people to hold on to you as you fly your way and they fly theirs. Eleanor isn’t given the opportunity to know that she belongs and to feel the freedom to fly.”

Not only as we enter this season of giving, but generally, we have a role to play in helping more students and other people support the need for inclusion. As Harriet’s mother Susan on October 15 explained in reply to comments, Harriet conceived the story and insights, but key adults in her life have helped shape her values: “All parents and teachers offer children a lens through which to make meaning of the world. Children take it and go. Where they go is how the world changes. Thank goodness.”

Read Harriet’s post here.

Remaking Recess: Tearing Down Fences

Diana Pastora Carson, M.Ed.

“Once upon a time in a land not so far away, there lived a brother and a sister who loved each other very much. Each day, the sister went to school and learned many new things. But her brother was not allowed to go to school because he had a disability.  This saddened the girl very much. Until one day, a new law was passed that said that all little boys and girls could go to school, even if they had a disability. This made the girl very happy. 

A little yellow bus picked up her brother for his first day of school. At school, the little girl could hardly sit still until it was time for recess. She ran to her brother’s playground, eager to play with him. But when she got there, she was stopped by a big metal fence. The teacher stood on the other side of the fence with the girl’s brother and told her that she had to go to her own playground. The girl asked if her brother could come with her to her playground.  But that wasn’t allowed either.”  

This story is real.  It is part of my history. My brother’s history. Our nation’s history.  And although it seems so archaic, heartless, and unnecessary, it was the norm.  Way back then, even with the new law advocating for the “least restrictive environment” for all children, nobody thought twice about the appropriateness of segregation.  Even the best-trained professionals of the time were unaware of the long-lasting negative effects of segregating children and the long-lasting benefits of inclusion.

Nowadays, while many professionals and families have grown accustomed to inclusion in schools, and hence, on playgrounds, they still have little to no awareness about the importance of quality play and interactions, and how to foster them. Even with the best of intentions, good people can limit children with disabilities’ access to games and relationships. Here is an example. 

A few years ago, our school had a Jump-Rope-A-Thon to raise money for charity. Many classes were on the playground jumping rope, including my class.  I noticed a student in another class who was simply watching all the fun and action from the sidelines.  When I looked closer, I noticed that she had a disability. 

This girl’s teacher was an amazing educator.  A mentor of mine. Very professional. Very kind and thoughtful.  I was surprised to see her student left out of the games.  I walked over and, in front of my esteemed colleague, asked the child if she wanted to play too.  She did.  Although her cerebral palsy prevented her from jumping rope on her own, there were some things she could do with support and other things she could do on her own. 

The first thing I did was ask the student what she would like to do and how she wanted to do it.  She had some ideas: “I want to wiggle the rope on the ground while people are jumping over it.” And later, “I want to hop over the rope too, but I need help.”  She felt comfortable enough with me to ask for help. I helped her to get situated with her peers in order to wiggle the rope for others, and later I even helped her to jump tandem with me. Then her friends came up with some other accommodations to include her. It was a dream come true for any advocate for inclusion.

Inclusion in any environment is not just about parallel play or exposure or incidental learning.  It’s about a future. A future with purpose, with friends, with life quality. 

Children with disabilities on an “inclusive” playground will not necessarily be able to “play” with “friends” without support. Some children need help making friends and learning how to play. And some need that support over many years, especially those with communication and/or behavioral challenges.  Others simply need access to the games, activities, and environments to which all other students have access.

When we simply drop off students at the playground and hope for the best, we are ignoring possibly the most important part of a child’s educational experience.  And yet, the teachers who educate students in the classroom are in need of a break and cannot be outside during recess to support social successes there. Even though we do have supervision at recess times, often we become comfortable, and we forget to ensure that everyone belongs and everyone has access.  We do not train our staff to facilitate an inclusive recess community.  We train them to keep students safe. In that context, we do not ask children what it is that they want and need to truly be included. When we give no support, or we give inadequately aware, committed, and creative support, we drop the ball and miss a prime opportunity.  

If we are to see successful inclusion on playgrounds, then schools and districts must see the value of planning ahead and structuring activities and environments toward successful play experiences.  By investing in our students’ successful inclusion today, we tear down today’s “fences” and we create brighter futures for all children.

  When we don’t have inclusion on the playground we put people with disabilities at risk for a segregated future. Joaquin went from being fenced in at school to being fenced in at an institution as an adult.

When we don’t have inclusion on the playground we put people with disabilities at risk for a segregated future. Joaquin went from being fenced in at school to being fenced in at an institution as an adult.

  After years of fighting the system, Joaquin was finally allowed to return home to the community, to a home of his own, a home of his choosing, near family and friends, on November 4, 2011.  He celebrated 3 years of freedom this month.

After years of fighting the system, Joaquin was finally allowed to return home to the community, to a home of his own, a home of his choosing, near family and friends, on November 4, 2011.  He celebrated 3 years of freedom this month.

 Diana and Joaquin.  Love is the best medicine.

Diana and Joaquin.  Love is the best medicine.

   
  
 
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     Joaquin now enjoys freedom and a sense of   belonging in his own community.

Joaquin now enjoys freedom and a sense of
belonging in his own community.

  Joaquin is   no longer threatened by "fences."

Joaquin is no longer threatened by "fences."

 

 

Peer Engagement States

By Mark Kretzmann

How engaged with peers is the child you are observing?  Is she or he solitary, parallel, parallel aware, an onlooker, jointly engaged or playing a game with rules?  Learning to identify different states of peer engagement for the children at your recess will help you help them engage.  To maximize the social benefits of recess children should regularly engage with their peers.  Aim for games!

Remaking Recess uses a coding system based on the Playground Observation of Peer Engagement (POPE) to track a child's interaction with peers during social times at school.  The POPE form and codebook can be downloaded from the Toolbox.