In May 2019 we started to deliver a pilot to assist 8 Primary Schools within Gloucestershire to achieve the Play Friendly Schools Kite Mark. We did not realise at that time how the world was going to change and the understanding of children’s play and ideas of how this could be achieved would be so vital.
The first eight modules were delivered to Senior School Managers, Teachers/Play leaders who were going to be in charge of the Play Friendly Schools. The lectures took place at the University of Gloucestershire or St Peter’s Catholic Primary School in Gloucester, which already had achieved the OPAL (outdoor play and learning) Kite mark. Initial sessions were spent developing an understanding of play and the importance of it. The fact that 20% of a child’s life at school (1.4 years) is spent in non-lesson time-playtime. Experience of working in OPAL schools had shown that Play Friendly Schools developed children who after playing were happy to return to class engaging more and being ready to learn. Their physical and literacy skills improved, they were happier children, more physically active, better staff-pupil relationships, less accidents, wider circle of friends and the school was a happier place to be. It also complies with Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which states that children and young people have the right to rest and leisure, and to engage in play and recreational activities.
Further sessions discussed the play cycle, play theory, use of spaces, the importance of involving all children, staff, parents and community in the reorganising of play space. Maps were drawn and play ideas created. Visits were made to St Peter’s to see playtime in action. Risk assessments were drawn up and policies developed.
Problems were discussed -how do you involve all staff, parents and Governors? Financial implications? Accidents? How can we alter the grounds? Schools shared ideas and even resources. The staff were then left to develop their assessments and Kite Mark.
The second part of the project started in March 2020 the week before lockdown! Play/dinner time supervisors and teachers were invited to a lecture and here discussed the meaning of play and compared play today with play in their childhood.
Lockdown then occurred and the project was on stand still until July when we had 2 ‘team’ meetings. These were very interesting, discussing how play had changed in schools now. The schools had different notions of ‘bubbles’ of children with some supervisors having mixed age groups. Some schools had fields split into 7 play zones for different age groups/bubbles, with children taking weekly turns to play in different zones within their bubbles and sanitising play equipment daily. Other schools had gazebos which they would use for play zones with staggered lunch times and so staggered use of playtime. Areas of the school which rarely were used prior to lockdown were now utilized, one school using the Italian garden, or front of the school, loose part play was used, and children were encouraged to wash their hands regularly. There was a difference between large and small schools, children in smaller schools appeared to have more freedom.
When asked what play they had seen children doing this ranged from an adult led activity with a skipping rope enabling social distancing to take place, to hiding in hedges and bushes, doing cart wheels being free, using tyres and wood planks, dressing up and playing on a stage, running around the large running track, playing football , hopscotch in bubbles, climbing walls and loose parts play. Children were given the freedom to play in isolated areas so not always visible.
Concerns Staff had with play at this time as children were having to be in zones or bubbles included: lack of space to play large football games, getting too close to other groups who may touch their ball, using the running track with bikes and running children over, not being able to see children playing in the house corner, cobbled area causing falls, steep stairs- a danger when wet, sloping path and children running so fast they do not see others causing crashes, inappropriate use of equipment -stumps used as jousting poles. Only a few of the concerns reflected the Covid times, others just needed discussions and risk assessments with children.
When asked if the Supervisors had noticed any differences in the children’s play as a consequence of Covid the following was stated: children were playing with different toys-creating obstacle courses and in mixed age group bubbles it was noted the older children looked after the younger ones more. Children were asked to take toys out to play with as they knew they could not play with everything. As a consequence, they were more engaged in playtime, not flitting about as much. One group used hoola hoops as a tag vehicle. There was a limit on resources and more running about like wild children. We had interesting discussions relating to the play cycle -‘adulteration’ of children’s play and avoiding accidents through using risk assessments and writing policies.
It will be interesting to see how many schools submit their folders for the Kite Mark. Times have changed since we started the pilot but all the principles of play remain the same. It is vitally important that with all children returning to school in September that they have sufficient time to play and with adequate resources. It would be interesting for schools to continue this project and share ideas as children do need to be physically active, socialise, problem solve, create and enjoy themselves within the school day if they are going to engage in quality learning.