Playworks Education Energized

Preparing our country’s children to become inclusive leaders through play

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

Polarization is at an all-time high in the US. We are losing the capacity to work through differences, recognize our interdependence, and see value in diversity and community.The fraying of our bonds is linked to failures in public education. Our collective well-being depends on public schools supporting the social and emotional development of children.Yet many children are not gaining the skills necessary to effectively engage with one another in an inclusive way.The skills of inclusion – the ability to experience empathy and understanding, to collaborate and cooperate – are the foundation of a healthy community. Ultimately, they are what make an equitable society possible. Without a solution that equips children with the skills of inclusion, our country’s social fabric will continue to fray. However, a solution is hiding in plain sight. Safe and healthy play in schools offers an accessible and ubiquitous opportunity to promote social inclusion.

Problem Statement

As a nation we are rapidly losing our ability to thrive in our collective. We are losing the capacity to see value in a diversity of opinions, to work through our differences, and to recognize our dependence on one another. Amidst this discord and division, we are allowing our kids to grow up in a society where conflict, even name-calling and bullying, are normalized. Even worse, we are not equipping them with the social, emotional, and leadership skills they need to effectively engage with one another and stem this tide towards disunity and polarization. The fraying of civil society is inextricably linked to failures in our public education system. Many kids are not gaining the necessary skills of inclusion, and their learning environments are not offering an alternative to the fractious community outside school walls. This is especially true for children in low-income communities where an emphasis on academic outcomes and preparing for the workforce have obscured society’s larger interest in children’s healthy development. Despite that emphasis on academic preparation, educational attainment for low-income children woefully lags behind middle and upper-income children. We accept this reality at the peril of the long-term well-being of our communities and our nation.If we want the next generation to value diversity, inclusion, and community - to have the skills required to be engaged citizens - then we must teach them the social and emotional skills they need to build relationships across differences, solve conflicts together, and experience a sense of value and belonging.

Solution Overview

Play is not an obvious solution for our nation’s discord. Yet it has been recognized by the United Nations as a right of every child, and by the American Academy of Pediatrics as an essential part of children’s social, emotional, cognitive, and physical well-being, especially for those who are economically disadvantaged. Play is universally accessible to every child regardless of socioeconomic status, special interest, language, or physical ability, is inherently rich in social and emotional engagement. Through play we learn to share, negotiate, solve challenges together, and celebrate shared experiences. Playworks has developed an innovative approach that leverages the benefits of play as a vehicle for developing competencies critical to healthy child development and are the foundation for a healthy community. At school, recess is when patterns of exclusion can either be reinforced or disrupted. We help teachers see how simple changes during the unstructured time of recess can have a huge impact on the entire school day. By supporting school environments where children can play, we establish inclusive social norms and develop fundamental skills such as cooperation, empathy, and conflict resolution. Playworks has demonstrated how easily children can learn these skills at recess and then use them in the classroom and beyond. And we have shown that it is possible and financially feasible to integrate play into thousands of schools. By June 2026, 10 million elementary age children will be developing the skills of inclusion through safe and healthy play.

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Project Funders

  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 2005 - 2019
  • Einhorn Family Charitable Trust 2011 - 2019
  • S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation 2010 - 2019

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