Loose parts in play — or the difference junk makes on a damp Tuesday lunchtime

28th March 2017

Playtime is the time most of us actually remember from school. How can loose parts – junk, stuff – help schools make playtime a key part of the school day?

By Cath Prisk, Global Partnerships Director at Project Dirt.

Back in the early 1990s I was a primary school teacher. Mostly I was super privileged to work with three to six year-olds, but I also got to cover every age group the year I did supply teaching. And, of course, we all had to do playtime cover too.

Standing in the middle of a huge expanse of concrete on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors, I watched over the antics of 250 children in their precious 15 minutes between lessons. I tell you, no combination of coat/hat/gloves/thermals quite cut it on a bleak damp Tuesday lunch time, and it was not surprising that many children, as children always have, would ask to “go in to the toilet miss!”, or would say “he hit me miss!”, or when they fell over, as they do fall over, they would cry maybe a bit more than necessary to get taken inside to be patched up…*

So when about ten years ago Michael Follett — the author of Making Playtime a Key Part of the School Day in our Outdoor Library — first took me to see a group of schools he was working with in South Gloucestershire, I was dumbfounded. I mean seriously gobsmacked, bowled over and utterly, totally delighted.

On a slightly damp Tuesday lunchtime the head teacher of the first school on our itinerary showed us around and it was the noise that got me. Or rather the absence of a noise. There was no sign of that slightly stressed whine that is oh so common towards the end of a damp Tuesday lunchtime, the whine of slightly stressed children. Instead there was the excited, busy chatter of about 300 playing kids having an absolutely brilliant time. And this wasn’t a one off, they did this every day!

Small change, big difference

There were many changes that the head teacher had implemented over the previous couple of years, but the most obvious and clear one was the introduction of ‘loose parts’, stuff to play with, junk. You can see what it looked like in the film above showing the results of a pilot study of Scrapstore Playpods in 2009.

And the impact of the change?

  • Children are better behaved.
  • Children have less accidents.
  • Children are happier at playtimes.
  • There are less reported incidents of bullying.
  • The lunchtime supervisors are happier.
  • Children return to class more ready to learn…

Since then, the Children’s Scrapstore team and Michael’s Outdoor Play and Learning team have won many awards for transforming playtimes,  and many more schools have introduced loose parts, either working with a ‘scrapstore’ or local play organisation, or organising it themselves.

These are some of the children at Soho Parish Primary school in central London, showing that even the tiniest and least green space can become a brilliant outdoor space to play and learn with a bit of imagination.

 

And yet for many today in 2017 this will be a revelation. And not just in the UK, but worldwide.

If the only ‘loose part’ — thing to play with — in the playground is one football; if the markings on the tarmac or dirt are permanent rather than chalk; and if the children are always kept off the grass/dirt/trees… is it any wonder that football dominates any play space they have and that anyone that doesn’t want to play that is left feeling a bit adrift? Maybe even bored?

Many schools worldwide now ban running. They ban marbles. They ban skipping ropes. No one is allowed anywhere that will be muddy or dusty. Green schoolyards with natural places to play are still far from normal outside of Scandinavia. Understandably because schools are trying to reduce accidents.

But in Bromley Heath Primary school — one of the schools in the film above — the head teacher is very clear. Since they started playing with loose parts, teachers and lunchtime staff have seen a huge improvement in behaviour. Children are busy. They are creative.

And what I saw on that memorable visit on that damp Tuesday about seven years ago was lots of children too busy to care if they got a little bump. Too happy to have fights. Too engaged to want to stop and go inside. Why would they want to go in? Outdoors was where all the fun was at!

On Outdoor Classroom Day we’ll see hundreds of thousands of children across the world outdoors during school time. Can this film, Micheal’s book and the links below inspire many more of you to get involved and to think about how you can make playtime more playful?

If you haven’t signed up yet, register your class or whole school today!

Sign up to Outdoor Classroom Day

*I want to add that on a soft, sunny day it was one of the most heavenly places on earth and nothing could keep us inside, and that whatever the weather we went outdoors a lot… but that’s a different blog.

References

 

Many thanks to Neil Coleman of OPAL CiC and the staff of Soho Parish Primary school for showing the Project Dirt and Aprendiz Outdoor Classroom Day teams round their amazing playground!

If you have more resources to help schools make playtime more enjoyable, or you are a school that can share your journey, please do let us know!

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We’ll send you a newsletter shortly. Time to play is critical for every child – share your moments with us by tagging #OutdoorClassroomDay and make every day a day to learn and play outdoors!

Wohoo! Top marks for signing up!!!

Thanks for joining the movement, we can’t wait to see what you get up to on the day! Please share this with your colleagues and friends to help us make it possible for every child to get outdoors to learn and play every day 🙂

Thank you for supporting Outdoor Classroom Day!

We’ll send you a newsletter shortly. Time to play is critical for every child – share your moments with us by tagging #OutdoorClassroomDay and make every day a day to learn and play outdoors!

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