Michael Follett, author of Creating Excellence in Primary School Playtimes, provides 10 tips to help primary schools meet Ofsted criteria for excellent playtimes.
Imagine childhood without play. It sounds unthinkable but for around 50% of UK children school playtimes are the only time they get to play freely in an open space with their friends. When you think that out of 7 years at primary school, 1.4 of those years is time for play, it is clear that schools are ideally placed to enable children to access 180 days a year of great play opportunities.
As a former teacher, playworker and school improvement adviser I have dedicated the past 17 years to helping schools understand how to improve playtimes. It’s a great project as everyone wins, children are happier and healthier, teachers get more teaching time, leaders more leading time and playtime staff a much more satisfying job. So here are my top ten tips, condensed from my work developing the OPAL Primary Programme with over 200 schools in three continents.
1. Change your culture – A school that values play is a school that understands that play is essential to children’s physical and mental wellbeing and that the recipe for play requires some dirt, some risk, plenty of choices, quite a lot of freedom and a growing amount of trust. Once your school develops a culture of valuing play and understanding the simple conditions it requires to grow and flourish the rest is relatively easy.
2. Use what you have – OPAL’s research has revealed that the average primary school uses its field for between 8-16% of the 180 days there are in the school year. If you have space, don’t spend money on equipment until you find ways to use your valuable space for at least 80% of the year. (OPAL School’s average around 95%).
3. Put someone in charge – Good play in a school takes planning, resources and persistence. 20% of the school day will not improve itself. Traditionally schools dedicate very little leadership attention to the management of what is often the trickiest part of the school day to manage.
4. Be Generous – How many children are in your school – 100, 200, maybe 500? How many hours play is that a year? In a school of 200 children the answer is 160,000 play hours a year. So be generous – don’t build one play house build ten, don’t put in a sand table, build a beach! Children need lots of space and lots of stuff to avoid conflict at playtimes and access to plenty of fuel for their imaginations.
5. Make use of free stuff – Children much prefer to play with stuff than on things. They don’t really mind what you give them to play with, they just need lots of it. So don’t worry about asking the PTA to raise thousands to build a thing to play on, instead think about how you can provide children with many, many things to play with. We are not talking about toys, we are talking about the secret magic ingredients of play called loose parts, which is virtually anything you can think of that is safe enough to play with, from and empty box to an old pan or a bit of wood.
6. Use Nature – Nature changes every day, it re-grows, it is naturally calming and attractive to children. Instead of a play catalogue why not go to a garden centre and see what resources they have that would provide lots of open ended play value?
7. Provide Choices – What is the essence of play? It is surely the freedom to choose for yourself. To be able to decide for your own reasons and motivations where you go, who you play with and what you play with. Look around your playground. Is it an oasis of potential choices waiting to be discovered? The more variety on offer, the more freedom of choice actually means something.
8. Allow time – Play is a human right under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child Article 31 and every school has a legal and moral duty to implement the convention. So don’t regard playtime as a problem to be whittled away or used up with finishing work, but as an opportunity to provide an essential part of a good childhood.
9. Don’t waste your money – Children will always be attracted by newness, so any play equipment, however poor its play value, will be investigated by children for the first six weeks of its presence, but children are around school play equipment for around 1800 hours a year, for several years and it is only worth investing in capital equipment which will continue to present interest and challenge, building strength, fitness and coordination over a number of years, otherwise you are just buying very expensive benches to hang-out on.
10. Keep it up – Providing great play for every child should be the concern of every adult who cares about quality of childhood, because making play better in schools is not up to children, it is up to us the decision makers and power holders, the leaders, staff and parents. We are the people who are in charge; of their time, and their space, and the rules. Governments are not, and children cannot make us provide for their play, it must be done because we ourselves care about children having fun, joy and happiness.
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Michael Panckridge, co-author of Be Bully Free, takes a look at the different forms that bullying can take and suggests strategies that victims of bullying can adopt to overcome the problem.
Bullying is about power and the perceived need to gain dominance over another person either physically, intellectually, socially or emotionally. Research into the effect of bullying behaviour indicates that not only does it produce negative short-term psychological problems, but can also affect a person well into their adult life and even lay the foundations for significant and ongoing emotional health problems. Sometimes the bullying is overt and immediate. However, in many cases, the bullying is low-key and ‘hidden’, and the recipient may not be aware of it immediately. Initially the recipient may think it is their own behaviour that is causing the bullying – that there is something wrong with them or what they do. When this happens, the recipient of the bullying tends to avoid being with other people and they use strategies to escape. This may include avoiding school, which can signal the start of school refusal. Continue reading
As a formal part of the Early Years Foundation Stage, educators are now required to deliver instruction of British Values and the Prevent Duty in classrooms, nurseries and other early years settings. In response, Kerry Maddock, author of British Values and the Prevent Duty in the Early Years, outlines what exactly the government means by this legislation and offers clear advice to early years practitioners on how to implement British Values in such a way that also fosters individual liberty. Through case studies, research, and interviews with OFSTED inspectors, her book is an essential guide for any Early Years professional seeking guidance on this statutory requirement.
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Nick Luxmoore, author of Practical Supervision for Counsellors who Work with Young People, explores the positive impact that good supervision sessions can have on counsellors who are struggling to break down barriers with young people in their care.
It’s Nikki’s first day as a counsellor and she’s about to see four young people. “Help!” she says, panicking. “What am I supposed to do?” Elsewhere, the girl Stephanie’s been seeing for counselling has ripped up a box of tissues and stormed out of the room, Marvin’s complaining that his counselling waiting list is getting longer and longer, and all the young people at Maggie’s school appear to be cutting themselves or feeling suicidal….
However experienced or inexperienced they may be, all professional counsellors are obliged to have regular meetings with a supervisor: someone with whom they can untangle the “stuckness” that develops in their thinking and relationships. Most are only too glad of the facility and most counsellors are able to choose their supervisor, someone who may or may not already have experience of working with young people. Continue reading
Sonia Mainstone-Cotton, author of Promoting Young Children’s Emotional Health and Wellbeing, provides some very useful and easy tips for supporting young children’s happiness at this important stage in their development.
Wellbeing is a term we hear a lot about for adults and young people, but we don’t hear so much about it for young children. We know that the rates of teenage mental health problems are rising alarmingly, and we are aware that children and young people are feeling increasingly stressed and distressed. I passionately believe if we can help young children to have a good wellbeing then we are setting them off to a great start in life. But to help children have a good wellbeing, we need to be proactive about it.
One critical aspect of a child having good wellbeing is by them knowing that they are loved – that they are loved for the unique and precious individuals they are. Parents and grandparents clearly have a crucial role in letting children know that they are unconditionally loved, but I also believe that key workers, teaching assistants, children’s workers also have a role in showing children that they are loved and wanted. We show this through the words we use and the way we hold children. Part of my job is as a nurture consultant; I have seven children and schools that I support throughout the year. Every time I see one of my nurture children I ensure I show delight in seeing them that day. I smile at them, I look them in the eyes and tell them how lovely it is to see them today, how much I have been looking forward to our time together. Continue reading
University can be a difficult time for anyone, but throwing social anxiety into the mix just makes it that much harder. Claire Eastham, author of We’re All Mad Here, has battled with her social anxiety for many years, from her school days, through university and even when she started working in her dream job in publishing. In this extract, she discusses how going to university affected her mental health and the different ways she tried to combat her anxiety. She also touches on the exam stress, social media and the pressure of fitting in.
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Margaret Malpas, author of Self-fulfilment with Dyslexia, provides an overview of the creative process in a person’s brain and explores the reasons why creativity is a particular strength of people with dyslexia.
Her book, printed on cream paper so that it is easy on the eye, is a very simple to follow guide designed to help people with dyslexia make the most of their true potential. Royalties from the sale of the book will be donated to the British Dyslexia Association. Find out more about the book here.
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Margaret Malpas, author of Self-fulfilment with Dyslexia, explains how it is not just talent that makes people successful but rather the strength of character to succeed. Admitting that dyslexic people may well struggle academically at an early age, she nonetheless asserts that with dyslexia comes the determination to prove your critics wrong.
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That is according to Nathalie Slosse, author of Big Tree is Sick, who tells the story of how the book came to be, as well as laying out her case for complete honesty as the best way to engage with children when helping them to understand serious illness.
In surveys on what values we consider important, honesty is always highly rated, usually even as the most important quality. However, when it comes to honestly confiding something serious to our children, we often want to spare them the grief that the harsh truth can bring. It is a dilemma I struggled with when I was treated for breast cancer, and it’s why I want to provide a resource to others in the same situation today.
Sometimes people ask me “Did breast cancer change your way of life?” I wish I could reply that this was not the case; it’s true that prior to my diagnosis I followed my heart when it came to important life choices. But if I’m honest, I must admit that without the painful episode in 2007, I would not be doing what I do now. The battle I had with breast cancer as a mum of a two year old boy helped me discover that I can help people find happiness in difficult circumstances. In 2010 I founded the association Talismanneke to further explore that path.
But let’s start at the beginning.