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Creative Spirit - Joy In Learning / Character Education

THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE
MORENO VALLEY

May 8, 1999

Working Things Out is Child's Play
Moreno Elementary uses games to teach getting along
By Amita Sharma

On the way to the playground Thursday, first-grader Rochelle Louis expressed a lofty mission for herself and classmates.

The pigtailed girl in a yellow-flowered dress slipped her arm around school aide Ronda Longeuay's waist, looked up and said, "We're trying to tell people to get along with one another."

Like most first-graders, compatibility hasn't always come easy to Rochelle or her two best friends, Jazmine Rivera and Cheyenne Collins. Just the other day, the three girls got into a tiff while playing "Mother and Daughter." Two of the girls wanted to be the mother.


Jennifer Begley Hasko / The Press-Enterprise

Pupils at Moreno Elementary School play Troll Treasure during "Health Play" time. The aim of game is to teach youngsters how to get along through games on playground.

The deeper problem? Three girls with strong personalities. Three leaders. The school's solution? A program called "Healthy Play," which teaches children to work out their problems with one another through games.

In a society where student grudges can morph into campus shootouts or bomb threats, "Healthy Play" advocates say the program teaches children to manage their anger and talk through conflicts.

"As a parent of two children, I feel it's my responsibility to teach them how to get along," said Longeuay, who oversees the program at Moreno Elementary School. "But you know this is not happening in other homes by what happened in Littleton, and discipline statistics. Healthy Play at school gives children another avenue, another strategy they can use in their lives."

Charlie Steffens and Spencer Gorin created Healthy Play, which comes from a book they co-authored called "Learning to Play, Playing to Learn." Steffens and Gorin are co-founders of Creative Spirit, an organization that creates training programs for educators, mental health professionals and child-care workers.

Seven schools in the Moreno Valley Unified School District have teachers trained in Healthy Play strategies. But Moreno is the first school in the district with an aide - Longeuay - to work with children using Healthy Play skills. The program, which started this year, is funded by an annual state grant.

So far, Longeuay says student referrals for behavior problems are down by 25 percent to 30 percent because of Healthy Play. She plans to further evaluate the program at the end of the year.

Teachers choose pupils for Healthy Play based on behavior. Children who interact poorly with their peers, can't control their anger or can't take directions from teachers are prime candidates. The school has about 64 pupils in the program.
Each week, Longeuay takes these children, usually in groups of six to eight, out to play for 30 minutes. Games focus on fostering creativity and compassion. People and fun come before winning, she said.

One favorite game is, "Are You A Peacebuilder?" Players sit in chairs, forming a circle. The child without a chair is in the middle of the circle. That child must greet a person in a chair with a handshake and ask, "Are you a peace builder?" The person in the chair responds, "Yes, I'm a peace builder and I like people who..." Players have to use their imagination to identify an attribute, such as white sneakers, that most or all the other players have.

Children with that attribute must leave their chairs and find another place to sit. The next person left without a chair has to stand in the middle of the circle and start again.

Healthy Play rules are simple, Longeuay said.

If a student is injured during a game, the closest child must stop and help until the student is ready to play again.

If an argument develops between two children, they have to leave the game and resolve their differences peacefully before they can return. Students are encouraged to express their complaints to one another and listen. Then, they must focus on a compromise.

The rules have spilled over into the classroom.

"There is so much less tattling," said first-grade teacher Lynn Oppermann. "The kids know even if they tattle, they have to take their problem away and work it out."
Captains and scorekeeping do not exist in Healthy Play games.

After a Healthy Play session, Longeuay sits with her pupils for a debriefing session called "Compliment Tag." Each child offers a word of praise for another over what happened during the games.

Second-grader Jeff Henderson didn't hesitate when his turn came Thursday. Turning to classmate Richard Mondaca, he said, "I like how Richard helped me up when I fell down."

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