The Social-Emotional Powerhouse: Structured Play with SEL Coaching


We’ve seen the transformative power of active play and positive reinforcement throughout our before, during, and after school programming over the past 8 years.  Beyond the academic benefits, these activities can serve as a cornerstone for social-emotional development.

Let’s explore some of the impacts and how you can implement them at your school!

Building Empathy and Understanding

Through play, children practice stepping into the shoes of others, whether it’s role-playing doctor/patient or teacher/student, or encouraging a teammate who is struggling with a particular skill on the playing field. This not only fosters imagination but also cultivates empathy and connection. They learn to understand and respect diverse perspectives, which is crucial in our multicultural classrooms. Recess is an important but often missed window to build on these experiences and skills.

What can you do to enhance this aspect?

On the recess yard, encourage students who do not normally play a certain role (think quarterback or team captain) to lead. Observe and comment on strengths they exhibit in the role, and be available to make suggestions if they falter. If a student normally excels in offensive roles, have them commit the play period to defense, and visa versa.

Enhancing Communication Skills and Concepts of Health

Team sports and group games require communication. Children learn to articulate their thoughts, listen to others, and negotiate – skills that are invaluable in and out of the classroom. Having a coach on hand to keep things objective and in perspective teaches students to think beyond their individual achievement and how to maintain social cohesion for greater performance.

While negotiating these complex social interactions, they are also modeling examples of endurance, flexibility, balance, coordination, power, and agility. Students who regularly engage in team-based sports and games model a version of health that will serve them for the long-term.

What can you do to enhance this aspect?

On the recess yard, incorporate games like ‘Captain’s Orders’. Games like these allow diverse students to occupy roles of authority while their “deck crew” hustles to follow the silly and fun orders.

Nurturing Healthy Peer Relationships

Through play, children learn the art of sharing, cooperation, and conflict resolution. These interactions lay the foundation for healthy peer relationships, teaching them the importance of trust, mutual respect, and collaboration.

What can you do to enhance this aspect?
On the recess yard, pair up students with different levels of ability. Have more experienced students assume the role of coach, with the goal of helping the less experienced students succeed. Celebrate even the smallest of victories, and praise the players for demonstrating teamwork and cooperation.

The power of active play and exercise extends far beyond the playground. As educators, recognizing and harnessing this power can be one of our most effective tools in nurturing well-rounded, emotionally intelligent individuals.

Assist Programs is here to help you implement an effective structured recess and/or after-school program. We provide trained and cleared staff to deploy our innovative programs developed over 8 years of experience. If you’d like to schedule a 15-minute exploratory call, click the button below to set a time on our calendar.