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Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Importance of School Playtime

As part of my daily teaching duties I do playground duty twice a week on KS1 playground. For most of my career playground duty has been part of the job, because lets face it standing outside on an often cold, wet and windy playground is hardly going to be a highlight.

I am glad to say however, that what was once a bit of a chore, has actually become a highlight to my week. The reason for this change? I think it is due to the change from KS2 to KS1 playground. The children of KS2 playground are lovely and the part I would look forward to on KS2 duty would be the little chats I would have with pupils, which on the playground, are very different to the chats in class.

On KS1 playground what I absolutely love is the opportunity to watch the children at play, they truly take the opportunity that playtime gives them to 'play actively'. They run out and wait with eager anticipation for the outdoor equipment store to open and then play begins!

The play is split into several distinct groups: 

The footballers - (mainly year 2 boys) who run as fast as they can to be first to 'bagsy' the footballs, they then run towards the playgrounds football area and begin playing a game immediately sorting out teams whilst actually playing. They rarely fall out andt he chaotic way in which they organise themselves and play clearly makes sense to them and works perfectly.

The dancers - (predominantly year 1 and 2 girls, with the occasional boy thrown) they rush over to the stage area of the playground and sing, dance and play traditional playground clapping song. Their songs and dances generally come from dance classes they attend after school or ones they have made up themselves. Very occasionally they are dances to songs from boy bands such as One Direction but more often their own 'made up' dances prevail.

The Superheroes - A variety of children play these imaginary games, which are based upon characters ranging from superheroes to zombies. The main theme is 'fantasy', this play is rarely organised, but appears to evolve through language and communication between participants who make it up as they go along. 

The hoppers and bouncers - (Mixed age) these children delight in whatever play equipment they can get there hands on. This ranges from bouncy hoppers and bats and balls, to stilts. Play in this format tends to be in pairs or small groups and occasionally individual play. They bat, stomp and throw non stop, abandoning one piece of equipment for another and leaving a trail of equipment in their wake.

The hoarders (usually F2 children) - this play is often based upon picking up and collecting any equipment that has been 'abandoned' on the yard. This equipment is then piled up and sat on!  The aim of the game is a bit of a mystery and clearly requires more observation from me! Whatever the aim is the children involved take it very seriously. Sneaking up like little Ninjas apparently unseen by the other children, swooping down to claim the equipment with a triumphant grin.

The cones group (again F2) - Again a small select group of children who swoop upon the small cones in the equipment store. They then run around the the furthest, most hidden, part of the playground and set out the cones in a variety of patterns and lines. They protect their cones at all costs and have children on 'look out' for any potential takers. The object of the game is a total mystery but provides another investigation opportunity for me.

The horsey's (F2s and year 1s) - They use hoops, skipping ropes and anything they can get their hands on to assist in their game of horses and ponies. The game is best played it seems is 2s or 3s and requires one child to be the horse, pony or even unicorn! with the other child holding the reigns. This is a very physical game and often ends in a big heap on the floor. Play is centred around imagination and a obvious passion for horses and ponies.

Whichever group they find themselves in it is clear to see that this 'play' thing is in fact quite serious business. The children are imagining, creating, organising, communicating, disputing, resolving and exercising. They are developing an understanding and observation of the world around them. Play is learning!

On our playground the children rarely require any assistance or interference from the adults on duty. In fact I think that they not only don't need it but play and learning is interrupted or ruined with adult interference. The adult is, and should only be there, in an observational and safety role. Do they even need adults out there at all? I would argue not. If accidents do occur they are always minor and require little more than a 'magic rub'. If they were playing in their own garden and got hurt they would merely come in to find an adult. But in our 'litigation' and blame culture they are stuck with us, but we must be really careful not to interfere with their play. We must also remember that conflict resolution is nine times out of ten best left to the children to sort themselves too, this is a very important social skill which they will never develop if someone is always there to sort it for them.

So next time you are on playground duty have a look for what groups you have, remember to only step in and interfere if it is absolutely necessary. Just use the opportunity to enjoy watching play and learning in action!