Civic Action

The Power of Play

July 23, 2019  • Aspen Global Leadership Network

Jill believes in the power of play. In 1996 she launched Playworks, which is now the leading national nonprofit leveraging the power of play to transform children’s social and emotional health. Playworks aims to create a place for every kid on the playground to feel included, be active, and build valuable social and emotional skills. Playworks partners with schools, districts, and afterschool programs to provide a service or mix of services, including on-site coaches, professional training for school staff who support recess, and consultative partnerships.

Today, recess on playgrounds is a lot more fun. There are games going on in spaces that were previously unused or chaotic, there are fewer kids on the sidelines, and playtime is helping kids discover the joy of being active. Research shows that active kids are stronger learners because, by playing together, children practice how to get along. Through play, kids learn to make friends, solve problems, and believe in themselves, every day. This drives Jill and Playworks’ mission. This year alone 1.3 million kids in over 2,700 elementary schools are experiencing safe and healthy play.

For the majority of her career, Jill focused on in-person trainings and providing direct services to students, but Jill knew that not everyone can engage with training services physically. So, she recently decided to pivot in a new, bold direction. After 20 years of experience working with elementary schools by providing training and workshops, she launched PlayworksU, an online academy where educators can discover play-based strategies for recess, transitions, and game time. Since the launch in October 2018, it has obtained nearly 200 subscribers across the country.

To expand its impact even further, Playworks also launched Recess Lab ( to help principals, teachers, and kids rediscover the power of play. This online expansion has allowed more than 21,000 educators and youth professionals from 50 states to sign up to receive proven tips, games, and ideas for every recess and play space. Playworks will continue to grow Recess Lab as a resource for educators, youth development professionals, and caregivers. Both of these online platforms has propelled Jill forward and kept her on track to achieve her Action Pledge.

But Jill knew that play could be a resource to more than just kids across the United States; it can also help adults. With that in mind, she expanded outside the education sector and is bringing play to corporate culture across the country through Workswell. Workswell is designed to help companies reimagine company culture to create a more productive work environment through the power of play, empathy, and intentionality. While not a direct expansion of her Action Pledge, Workswell is allowing Jill to bring the principles and learnings from Playworks and her pledge into new environments with untapped potential.

“Playworks has 630 staff, most of whom are out in the regional offices. People become very focused on what they’re doing in their region and it’s hard to maintain a collective focus on the whole. There is diversity of thought and experience and just how people interact. But having that big, audacious goal through an Action Pledge, gave us all something collectively to be shooting for.”

– Jill Vialet