Physical education teacher Eric Nelson writes for Edutopia that physical education classes are crucial in helping students not just connect, but learn how to be respectful and trust one another, ultimately building a sense of community.
Working in Florida's Duval County Public Schools, Nelson uses a number of games and activities, from a form of volleyball to jump rope, in helping students build positive connections with each other during the school day.
Nelson stresses any school can build community through physical education, and not just in class: Schools can sponsor a walking club and get students, staff and even teachers to sign up for a local 5K together, or launch an after-school dance program — anything that gets them working together toward a fun goal.
Giving students a chance to take breaks and direct their own time so they can interact and connect — even with staff and teachers — can support the building of a community within the school building while providing a chance to develop crucial SEL skills.
Alongside physical education, recess provides a needed break during the school day for students. That downtime can be more than a chance to play, providing a brain break and an opportunity for students to refocus and socialize, creating a sense of community and culture as they collaborate in positive ways, as noted by CASEL.
Recess' role in building community is also among the findings in a 2017 study published in the Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, which reported primary school teachers noting “…students would play better together, interacting much earlier in the school year as a result of simply having the time to play freely with one another.”
In the same study, researchers noted teachers also believed test scores from students would also improve from children developing a sense of community, an academic benefit in addition to SEL tool-building.
Some believe students connecting with their peers is so important that educators need to create opportunities specifically for students to do so, according to a 2017 paper in the IAFOR Journal of Education.
“Because positive social relations among peers is an element that defines a sense of belonging, the authors recommend the adoption of teaching strategies that encourage positive social relationships, such as teamwork or cooperative learning tasks,” authors from the University of Quebec wrote.
If recess time is limited, educators can look for after-school options like running clubs for students, which groups including Just Run and the Road Runners of America both outline and offer programming for.