Time is precious. This saying is especially true within primary schools. For the children, their time in primary school is relatively short; the memories that they make are vivid and long lasting and the lessons they learn are the building blocks of their lives within education. For teachers there is a lot to teach in the little time that they have with their pupils. Break times and lunch times are a vital time for pupils to have a change of scene, recharge and come back to class energised for the learning that will follow. All educators understand that negative encounters experienced over break times can have a huge impact on children’s attitudes and therefore on the quality and effectiveness of learning taking place in the classroom.
The key findings from the natural environment white paper showed that children are being ‘increasingly disconnected from their natural environment’. This is exacerbated by the ever-growing popularity of new technologies, which provide an appealing, but static, play alternative for children rather than youngsters naturally participating in daily, traditional, outside play. Children are engaging significantly less than ever before with simple physical activity, which is resulting in a rise in childhood obesity and mental health problems. A national survey of break times completed by the Nuffield Foundation and University College London, concluded that in comparison to an earlier survey in 1995, break times in primary and secondary schools had been reduced, with some afternoon break times being completely abolished altogether. However, the length of the school day has increased and this often means less time outside and more time in class. None of this is helping to improve physical activity levels in children!
Make Playtimes Valuable Times
Time spent outside needs to count. Break times provide the perfect chance for children to take part in physical activity and explore risk-taking and develop decision making. This is a time when they can immerse themselves in imaginative play, work collaboratively as a group in a team game, exercise problem solving skills and improve resilience. If children develop these life skills during break times, this creates augmented positive attitudes in the classroom. As part of section five of the Ofsted inspection framework, ‘Ofsted must consider spiritual, moral, social and cultural development when forming a judgement of a school’. Therefore, a school with a clear vision and well embedded ethos will be very evident to Ofsted through pupils’ attitudes, aiding the school in its quest to achieve a positive judgement.
Playtime is an ideal opportunity to support a child’s physical, social, emotional needs and improve their mental wellbeing; if educational settings create opportunities for active, creative and investigative play within their play spaces, this can provide an ideal solution for integrating more play into the timetable. Whether it’s using a ‘Daily Mile Track’ or ‘Timber Adventure Trail’ to develop strength, agility, coordination and burning off excess energy, engaging in role-play or exploring through sand and water play, these activities all foster team work, resilience, problem solving and provide positive play experiences. Creating inspiring settings for imaginative play from the EYFS through to KS2 is incredibly important enabling children to create, experiment, investigate and cooperate with peers, all the time improving their social and emotional life skills. The Tree Mound Tunnel and the Beacon Double Tower offer countless opportunities to inspire exciting imaginative play, whilst allowing children to also develop their agility, fine and gross motor skills.
Make Playtimes Happy Times
For many children break times are difficult. Some children find making friends tricky, while others find it hard to maintain friendships during games and play. To keep playtime’s as happy times and reduce bullying, a buddy system is often a good solution to help children learn to get along. As stated by the ‘Ofsted evaluation schedule for schools’, inspectors should evaluate the extent to which pupils, including those from different groups, take on responsibilities and play a part in the school and wider community’. Using Buddy Benches as a base, or a Games Top Table area, older children can be given the responsibility of being a playground monitors, helping to solve problems and making sure that everyone has someone to play with. This also reinforces pupil safety, pupil voice and nurtures a caring ethos.
Setting up a school garden is another useful way to encourage responsibility and respect while providing children with a calming and therapeutic opportunity to care for their outside area; this can boost self-esteem and enhance a sense of value and place in their local community. The Easy Garden Planter will provide children of all ages a space in which to grow seasonal flowers, herbs and vegetables, which in turn will also inspire numerous learning opportunities linked to habitats, plant life, seasonal changes and using the senses etc.
Let Your Children Shine Through Positive Playtimes
Ofsted inspectors have made it clear that a school’s identity should be shaped by a culture and ethos that is ‘typically’ present. Schools with a well-developed ethos and vision will have higher teacher retention rates and increased levels of achievement and success amongst its pupils. Positive learning attitudes are demonstrated when children feel safe, valued and cared for within their school community. Whether you are looking to enhance playtimes for your school, find a solution to poor peer group cohesion or starting an exciting school journey with a new vision and ethos, having a well-structured, inspirational outside area, which maximises the opportunities for children to exert their right to play and exercise safely, will help create a happy learning environment, where a positive school ethos and vision can grow, develop and become embedded.