This girl can… play

Sport England’s Active Lives survey revealed that children say play is their favourite way to be active and their hugely successful This Girl Can campaign struck a chord with the message:  

No one gets to choose how you exercise other than you. Your body, your call. And whatever that looks like, we think it’s worth celebrating.’ 

But when it comes to school playtimes did you ever think that it’s just boys who want to play in mud, jump high, flip upside down, run fast, climb, scream and conquer the monkey bars? If so, read on and discover the transformational effect that prioritising play in primary schools has on girls.

There are multiple biological, psychological and social benefits presented to all children through play, but this blog focuses on the improved opportunities for physical activity for girls, plus their increased confidence and happiness.

The Five ways to mental wellbeing report was researched and developed by the New Economics Foundation, commissioned for the Government’s Foresight Mental capital and wellbeing project. This research recommended five actions that could be taken to improve mental health and wellbeing; one of these being ‘be active’ and, in particular, to take part in physical activity that you enjoy.

Improving play at Blue Coat Primary

Go back six years and Blue Coat primary school in Gloucestershire was poised at the very beginning of their OPAL (Outdoor Play and Learning) journey. The headteacher had recognised that playtime was under-developed at the school. On closer inspection, an unconscious gender bias was revealed, where a relatively small number of active, physically competent boys were dominating relatively large areas of the playgrounds. Girls were figuratively and literally being pushed aside. Of course, this did not mean that girls were not playful, but it did mean that observations of playtime showed that girls’ play was quite marginalised and muted, and that behaviours such as hiding in the toilets, hovering around and holding lunchtime supervisors’ hands or just waiting for play to finish were evident. Since becoming an OPAL mentor and visiting many more schools I have observed how this bias is prevalent in the way most schools provide for play.

Girls love playing actively too

As soon as changes began, the Blue Coat girls immediately responded to all the new opportunities with relish! They were hungry for more. Simple additions like playground chalk, loose parts and active play kit (eg hula hoops) were snapped up and positively affected play.

When permission was given and some historic, heavy-handed rules were lifted, many girls showed that they love being upside down and that some of them had great physical competence when it came to flipping, spinning, cartwheeling and handstanding. Their competence and skills were enjoyed by other children and inspired physical play in others.

New games and activities quickly emerged. Opening the school field for the whole year, rather than just on dry, summer days, gave groups of girls the space to do ‘social balancing’; full body challenges presented through imaginative and fun activities such as human stacks and pyramids, synchronised tyre dancing and acro-gymnastic displays.

One girl jumping over another girl in a tyre while other children play in the background

Improving health, wellbeing and happiness

Girls at Blue Coat now have greatly improved opportunities to express themselves physically, take risks, and go ‘100% full throttle’ if they desire; running as fast as they can, leaping as far as they dare, carrying and dragging large loads of loose parts and zooming around on go-karts! 

This all contributes to improved mental health, wellbeing and happiness, as reported by the girls  (and the boys) through regular dialogue, including play assemblies and pupil play surveys. 

The OPAL approach means that no child is left out and every child can reap the benefits of amazing outdoor play every day. Playtimes make up 1.4 years of a child’s life at primary school – let’s make them count.

Rachel Murray, OPAL Mentor

Rachel Murray was Play Coordinator for Blue Coat primary in Wotton under Edge from 2014-20 and is now an OPAL Mentor supporting schools across the West of England region.

Many thanks to Blue Coat for acting as our case study for this blog. All photos are provided by Blue Coat Primary and cannot be reproduced without their express permission.

The big catch up

Children in school uniforms playing outdoors

At the end of last year, the Government announced £1 billion of funding to support children and young people to catch up on lost time following school closures. In her final speech as Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield said:

“The major disruption to two years of education, alongside the limited opportunities to see friends and wider families, to play and enjoy activities and the worry about the impact of Covid on their families, will have taken a heavy toll on some children.”

The Government’s Recovery Commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, has indicated schools should take a broad view of catch up, stating:

“I think we need to think about the extra hours, not only for learning, but for children to be together, to play, to engage in competitive sport, for music, for drama, because these are critical areas of learning, not just the academics but these vital areas that have been I think missed by many children and will be missed in their growth and development. We need to make sure that whatever we offer children is broad, is rich and doesn’t completely stifle all the other things in life that matter.”

However, a trawl of primary school websites shows a wide range of interpretations of what catching up involves. Many only publish their ‘catch up curriculums’, these are lists of subject knowledge and skills in the core subjects. A few have a more whole-child approach, one saying: “When the children returned to school [in September 2020], we focused upon their wellbeing and physical health.” Others have defined their broad approach more clearly:

“We utilise opportunities for outdoor learning wherever possible so that children can explore the outdoor environment, link what they are learning to the natural world, and take part in stimulating real life challenges such as gardening and building.”

What have children missed out on the most?

As one school points out: “Each school has been given £80 per pupil. This equates to £2 per week or 41p a day.” So, before schools make too many plans on how to spend their 41ps, we should pause to think about what children have missed out on the most. 

As well as missing out on lessons, many children have spent a year with up to 14 hours a day screen time, and a huge or complete decline in most aspects of ‘real life childhood’; seeing friends, touching, playing, exploring, laughing, running, and having any control over anything other than their virtual lives.

Play is the primary way that children learn

Children are young primates. If you took young primates from another species, say chimpanzees, and for a year deprived them of access to nature, opportunities to socialise, stimulating environments, and opportunities to play in a pleasant well-resourced environment, what outcomes would you expect and how would you help them to recover?

It is no coincidence that the more intelligent a species the more and the longer they play. Like other young primates in their primary years, children need a lot of primary experience to gather a huge amount of data or intelligence (in the military meaning) about themselves and every aspect of the world around them. Screen learning is mostly a secondary experience, it does not provide the opportunity to get on, go under/over, smell, feel, pick up, push, pull, hold hands with, hug, carry or do anything that only a real experience enables. 

Is it us that needs to catch up?

Longfield’s departing speech lays down a challenge:

“I want to see the Prime Minister getting passionate about making sure that we don’t define children by what’s happened during this year, but we define ourselves by what we offer to them.’

If we approach the catch up from the perspective of ‘How can we provide what children need most in their lives?’ rather than ‘Here is an extra list of things you don’t know; on top of the other ones you were going to have to learn’, we may not only have a hope of helping children recover better from the damage to their wellbeing, happiness and development, but also go forward with a stronger vision of what a good childhood means.

Play is the way that children learn everything that cannot be taught. In my work as founder and director of the country’s largest not-for-profit organisation supporting schools to improve the quality of play for all of their children, I have seen the incredible impact that amazing play opportunities can have on children’s happiness, development and wellbeing.

I don’t believe any primary school catch up plan is sufficient without addressing the quality and sufficiency of play for every child. And, if catch ups are about providing more play, you might even get change from that 41p.

Michel Follett BA Hons Ed, PGCE

Director, OPAL

Author of Creating Excellence in Primary School Playtimes (JKP 2017)

Discover the power of playtimes at our online open day on Tuesday 2 March. Find out more and book your free place today

Take a risk on play

During winter, we often see children’s opportunities for playing reduce significantly due to fears for their safety. The paths are slippery, and the yards and fields are icy or full of mud. Where necessary, significant risks to children’s safety and wellbeing need to be reduced. But most winters we curtail children’s risky play because of skewed perceptions, instinctive reactions and secondary risk management (Elizer’s mum will go ballistic if she goes through the knee of those new school trousers!) The result? An unreasonably harsh application of safety measures.

Risky play or playing with uncertainty enables children to place themselves in situations that have a sense of jeopardy and risk without overexposure to the serious likelihood of harm (Gordon & Esbjorn-Hargens, 2007; Pellis, 2013). When creating risky scenarios in their play, children might more accurately be described as being in control of generating the feeling of being out of control. Ellen Sandseter researched the risky play of children in their early years and found that these forms of play were significant to children. The children called it ‘Scary fun’. Children seek opportunities to develop this scary fun in their play because it’s exhilarating and thrilling, gives them a sense of pride and achievement when mastering a new challenge, and influences their self-esteem, self-confidence and peer relationships.

From her research with children, Sandseter (2010b) identifies eight different ways that children play with risk:

  1. Playing at height – experiencing climbing, hanging/dangling, balancing and jumping
  2. Playing at speed – running, sliding, cycling or rolling at speeds that feel out of or on the edge of control
  3. Playing with dangerous tools – using an axes, saws, knives, hammers and ropes etc.
  4. Play near dangerous elements – the excitement of playing when there is a risk of falling in or off into something, perhaps water or mud
  5. Rough and tumble play – physical contact play with swords and sticks, or just wrestling
  6. Playing free of adult supervision – playing as exploration and discovery perhaps in new spaces but particularly with a sense of freedom from supervision
  7. Play with impact – playing on the dodgems or at least recreating opportunities that trigger the same feelings from exaggerated collisions
  8. Vicarious play – playing where the thrill is derived from watching others.

When children play in the ways that Sandseter identifies, they are finding and generating experiences that give them real feelings of exhilaration and excitement nervousness, anxiety, even fear. Playing in this way enables children to test, explore, extend and refine their capabilities continuously, and the possibilities afforded by each other and their environments.

Playing with uncertainty in these ways requires children to practice a high degree of risk management for themselves. Playing with uncertainty stimulates physical and biological responses that influence the way children feel and then requires them to work out what they want to do about those feelings. Children’s risk management processes include understanding, predicting and evaluating (executive function, hypothesis testing), and importantly translating all that processing into meaningful bodily response (hierarchical integration of brain-body systems).

Playing with uncertainty is training for life

Throughout life, there is nothing more certain than we will be faced with uncertainty and challenging experiences that will make us anxious, nervous, uncomfortable, exhilarated, even scared. Playing with uncertainty and engaging with risk through play is the perfect training ground for a life full of uncertainty. Put simply, when children are empowered to generate play that for them presents a sense of risk, we are enabling them to build the sense of confidence and self-esteem, coupled with experiences and skills, that contribute to their developing resilience.

Weighing up benefits and risks makes for better practice

Children’s attraction to novelty, flexibility and change, and to the creation of uncertainty (Pellis, 2013) is perfectly matched with their need to discover the world around them, and for the creation of experiences that make for a good life and healthy growth and development. However, as adults and carers of children, we are all too often a little risk-averse. When observing/supervising playing children we regularly overreact, looking to the worst-case scenario rather than allowing the observable facts in front of us to inform our judgements, this can result in the unnecessary curtailing of play opportunities.

Rather than jumping in and stopping play based on our first reactions, it’s a good idea to take just a second or two more to think:

  • What is going on here?
  • How is it going?
  • Why are the children choosing to do it?
  • What are the benefits?
  • What risks are children actually taking?
  • Are children being cautious, managing their or each other’s behaviour?
  • Given the benefits and the risks do I really need to stop this?

Where there is time to do this (it only takes seconds), we can avoid overreacting, and instead carefully respond, reflecting on the details of the situation. We can think what processes may be beneficial and what are the real risks, consider potential options and formulate more reasoned responses and interventions.

Better practice equals better play

When we pay attention in this way, we routinely find that children are aware of possible dangers and are taking steps to manage the risks already. When we take these extra few seconds to look, listen and think before acting, the only intervention or response required is often to continue applying a little oversight. One thing is for certain, when adults start to pay attention like this, they learn about children and play, and their attitudes and behaviours towards children and their play change, and children’s opportunities for play improve.

Ben Tawil and Mike Barclay, OPAL School Mentors and Directors of Ludicology

The OPAL Primary Programme can help you harness the power of play at your school. Get in touch and start your journey today.


Gordon, G. & Esbjorn-Hargens, S. (2007) Are we having fun yet? An exploration of the transformative power of play. Journal of Humanistic PsychologyVolume 47, pp.198-122.

Pellis, S. and Pellis, V. (2013) The playful brain: Venturing to the limits of neuroscience. Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications.

Sandseter, E. B. H., Kleppe, R., & Sando, O. J. (2020). The prevalence of risky play in young children’s indoor and outdoor free play. Early Childhood Education Journal, 1-10.

Photo by Michal Janek on Unsplash

How can schools improve children’s wellbeing and save money?

Money. There’s never been enough of it for everything our primary schools need to do, arguably even more so right now amid a pandemic. So, if there’s a way of using limited funds more positively and efficiently, which an entire school can benefit from, would you be interested?

The number of English primary schools has slowly decreased over the decades, from around 21,000 after WW2 to under 17,000 today. However, the pupil population of individual schools has been steadily increasing (back in 2015 there were already 87 schools with more than 800 pupils), resulting in a current national average of one adult in the playground at lunchtime for every 36 pupils.

“The average state-funded primary school now has 282 pupils on its roll… Since 2009, the average size of primary schools has increased by 43 pupils, the equivalent of more than 1.5 extra classes per school”

Schools, pupils and their characteristics: January 2019, Department for Education

The application of the 1:36 ratio results in the presence of many untrained adults in the play environment. Supervisors are left to work in the absence of any strategic or policy-based approach from the school, leading to decisions and practices which diminish the quality of play and make playtimes even harder to manage. Common examples include separating children by age and confining children onto relatively small areas of Tarmac for most of the year. Inevitably, overcrowding and boredom caused by lack of engaging play opportunities lead to inactivity, high levels of low-level accident reporting and increased behavioural incidents. As a result, the staff call for even more staff or less playtime. Schools don’t need more staff – they need better training!

Investing in staff – including lunchtime supervisors – makes sense financially. When supervisors change from a policing role to a playwork-based enabling role, the following usually happens:

  • playground incidents quickly decrease as play quality rises
  • there are fewer demands on senior leaders’ time
  • playground staff have many more positive interactions and fewer negative encounters with children
  • ball games are no longer the dominant activity
  • teachers get more time to teach after lunchtimes.

Sport England’s 2019 Active Lives Children and Young People Survey found that: 

  • Active play and informal activities remain the most common way for children in younger age groups (Years 1-6) to be active.  
  • The first Active Lives Children and Young People survey showed that enjoyment above all other elements of physical literacy is the biggest driver of children’s activity levels.  

Everybody’s time costs money and schools are very expensive institutions to run. The hundreds of schools that OPAL has worked with since 2006 typically save between £2,000 and £4,500 per year in recovered time.

Schools are eager to spend a great deal of money on fixed play equipment, especially low-level, ‘low risk’ trim trails, despite children finding them to have limited, short-term play value. After the initial wave of excitement has passed, it isn’t long before fixed equipment becomes ‘just part of the furniture’, effectively ending up as an overpriced seat or coat hanger. A medium sized primary school typically spends around £50,000 a year on the mediocre or poor supervision of play. Wouldn’t investment in play be better spent on the quality of this workforce through training in the basics of Playwork than on fixed items that provide a small amount of benefit to a small number of children?

The same question about spending money wisely also applies across the UK nations. The total cost for the supervision of playtimes is three quarters of a billion pounds every year. In Wales and Scotland there are polices and strategies to help schools provide a vision of what this investment should be used for. In England there is nothing!

The inadequate training of more than 130,000 primary school lunchtime staff has to be questioned at school and governmental levels.

There are 4.7 million primary school children who desperately need better play opportunities in their lives. Every ten years, £7.5 billion is wasted on staffing that is not fit for purpose.  The transformation of school supervisors into a properly trained school playwork team can have a positive impact across every aspect of school life. A national playwork workforce could revolutionise the quality of practice, save schools thousands of pounds and improve every child’s mental and physical wellbeing.

Neil Coleman, OPAL Mentor

Note: The PE & Sport Premium guidance now emphasises Active Breaks twice within the five key indicators, so schools can use some of their PESSP grant to develop the skills and knowledge of the staff who will supervise playtimes.

Five top tips to help you navigate playtimes during the pandemic

Now that schools have returned, most senior leaders are struggling just to make the logistics of children having lessons, eating, and coming and going from school safely. Despite these challenges, we believe that the provision of plenty of quality outdoor play is more important than ever and should still be a high priority for schools. 

We’re working with our OPAL schools to help them to provide the best possible quality of play for children within the constraints they are facing. As part of this support, we recently ran a special web conference with Mark Hichens, our consultant microbiologist, to understand the science behind transmission and how it can be applied to playtimes. 

Here are five of the resulting top tips to help your school navigate playtimes during the pandemic. 

1. Natural loose materials disperse the viral load almost instantly. This means that sandpits, earth digging, pebble pits are all very low-risk play resources.

2. Water with a bit of washing-up liquid or bubble-bath added is a great play resource. Not only is water and bubble play great fun but it actually helps kill the virus.

3. Fixed play equipment exposed to the natural elements will be ‘safe-enough’ after 24 hours outside, but we advise 72 to be extra sure. This means equipment can be accessed by one cohort for the week, left from Friday lunchtime until Monday lunchtime, and then used by another cohort without the need for time-consuming cleaning.

4. The same principle above is true for all weather-resistant large loose parts and bikes and scooters. They can be left out over the weekend and used safely by another group on Monday.

5. Playing outdoors poses much lower risks than doing anything indoors. With sensible hand washing routines this reduction in overall risk means that cohorts will be safe-enough sharing play resources during outdoor playtimes.

Research shows that play contributes to children’s physical and emotional health, wellbeing, approach to learning and enjoyment of school. Given the importance of play in children’s lives and current concerns about children’s physical activity levels, mental health and educational attainment, there are considerable benefits for children and schools in making the most of playtimes. 

Find out more about the OPAL Primary Programme and book a call with one of our mentors if you want to embed excellent playtimes at your school. The results really can be transformational.

And follow us on Facebook and Twitter to find out more about a new web conference coming soon and open to all schools.

Michael Follett, OPAL Director

Has Covid-19 led to a reduction in school playtimes?

I was recently asked to sign an online petition to oppose the cutting back of school playtimes in response to Covid-19 arrangements in primary schools. I usually work in schools every day, but since lockdown I’ve only been into one. Before signing, I wanted to find out a bit more about what’s really happening out there. So we published a quick Twitter poll and out of 50 respondents, 50% said that playtime has been reduced in their school.

This is obviously a small sample, but if it is even close to being representative of schools nationally then over 2.25 million children in England between the ages of 4 and 11 could have less outdoor playtime than before the pandemic.

In her Blog Play in the Pandemic, Professor of Child Psychology Helen Dodd points out:

“For social and emotional wellbeing, children need opportunity for all types of play, including play with their peers and physical outdoor play, both of which have been and, to some extent, continue to be restricted. This restriction is likely to felt particularly acutely by children without siblings who are close in age and by children who don’t have easy access to outdoor space.”

In their 2018 paper, Moore and Lynch* concluded that wellbeing, happiness and play are intrinsically linked:

“Findings illustrate the degree and complexity with which children understand the influences on their happiness (well-being) to be interrelated, highlighting an expanded view of play as a subjective aspect of childhood that is intrinsically connected to well-being and happiness.”

What an OPAL school had to say

I decided to speak to a school that will soon complete the OPAL Primary Programme to find out if they had reduced the time children get to play. Helen Easton, Assistant Head at Ivydale Infant’s in Islington, told me:

“No not at all. From 10.15 onwards the playground is in almost continuous use. We had improved play at the school before the pandemic and everything got better, especially concentration, relationships and behaviour. The children know we take their play seriously and it is their right. Children need the quality of play we provide here more than ever now.”

I was interested to know how the school manages the logistics of playtimes. Helen said:

“Lunch time runs for 1 hour and 45 minutes. We make sure that every child has a full hour of playtime, plus they have two fifteen-minute playtimes in the day as well. We have five bubbles and five areas, we have tried to provide resources and key points of interest for each bubble, like the sand pit or the water play and rotate them weekly”.

I was also interested to hear that not all of the impact has been negative. As a large school with a small space Helen observed:

“It feels more manageable now, children have more space and there is less noise. New children have definitely formed bonds with their classmates quicker and there is more collaborative play than before within the class.”

Trying to cope with logistics of socially distanced feeding and toilet breaks has pushed schools to their limits and, in many of our primary schools, outdoor play is likely to have been one of the casualties of the pandemic. Although this is understandable, it is counterproductive for children’s wellbeing, happiness and development. As we navigate schooling during this difficult time, we need to make sure that play is not forgotten.   

Michael Follett, OPAL Director

Do you have evidence of how primary school playtimes have changes due to Covid-19? Please share with us by getting in touch or Tweeting us @OPAL_CIC.

*Alice Moore & Helen Lynch (2018) Understanding a child’s conceptualisation of well-being through an exploration of happiness: The centrality of play, people and place, Journal of Occupational Science, 25:1, 124-141, DOI: 10.1080/14427591.2017.1377105

OPAL wins funding from Sport England and The National Lottery

Children enjoying playtime in an OPAL school
Children enjoying playtime in an OPAL school

Sport England, in their 2019 Active Lives Children and Young People study, found that the biggest motivator of physical activity in children aged between 5 and 11 is ‘Play’! Perhaps unsurprisingly playing was found by Sport England to be even more popular within this age group than team sports, swimming or any other activity. This is why Sport England and the Department for Education, which has a mission to reduce childhood inactivity, want to see every school improve their playtime provision as much as they can.

The recently updated The PE and School Sports Premium guidance reflects this shift in policy. The first two of the five key indicators are now “providing targeted activities or support to involve and encourage the least active children”, and “encouraging active play during break times and lunchtimes.” 

Outdoor Play and Learning (OPAL) CIC exists to support schools that want to permanently transform the quality of the playtime experiences they provide to pupils every day. This support is especially critical because, when playtime provision is good enough, play promotes learning, development and healthy physical and mental wellbeing in all children, and schools are a great way to reach children effectively in vast numbers!

Around one fifth (typically 20-22%) of a school day in the UK is allocated to playtimes, yet, unlike the rest of the day, there is no policy drive to ensure that the quality of playtime provision meets any standard.

No school would employ a teacher who didn’t have the necessary qualifications, training and skills to do an excellent job for every pupil. No parent would want their child to attend such a school, so why is it accepted in 20,000+ primary schools that the people who have responsibility with supervising playtimes are allowed to do so with no proper knowledge or training? The supervision of primary school playtimes is predominantly carried out by people on minimum wages, with no management and with no clear direction from school leadership. The cost to the nation is an estimated £750 million every year. Surely the least we might expect for this money is that staff are doing the best job they can, with the necessary skills and resources?

The £245,600 of growth funding awarded by Sport England and the National Lottery to OPAL will, between May 2020 and December 2021, enable OPAL to recruit and train more Mentors located in every English region. So that all schools who want to improve their playtimes to meet the government indicators will have dedicated support available throughout their 12-18 month training programme. In addition to doubling the number of Mentors providing support to schools, the funding will enable the provision of on-line training, which will be freely accessible to all schools playtime support staff. 

There will be new research published, networking and conference events, there will be lots of great ideas for staff to consider for the play environment, and there will be help available for parents and carers who want to boost play outside of school.

If you have any questions about the funding, see our FAQs.

Follow OPAL on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date with the latest news.

Protecting Play

Protecting play: Low resource ideas for supporting play during lockdown by Rachel Murray

The coronavirus lock-down has meant life has changed dramatically for children and simple everyday activities present new challenges. If children are to thrive, as well as making sure our children feel safe and are well looked after, we also need to allow play to continue. In supporting children’s play, we need to ensure as much freedom of choice as possible for children.

In normal times these freedoms include where and when they play, who they play with, and how they play. During lockdown, many of these choices have been lost or greatly restricted, as playgrounds are locked, friends remain at home and schools are largely closed. Parents, carers and children find themselves in new and unexpected circumstances. However, what has not changed is that play remains vital for children’s physical and mental health. It is still important that we try and protect children’s choices and let them play and be playful during this challenging period.

We appreciate that different families are facing different issues at this time. Here are some low resource ideas to help support children’s play during lockdown. We hope there will be something of use to you, or that they may spark a play memory or an idea that you can make your own.

Top tip – Use what you have
Don’t be put off by Facebook posts of parents building entire wooden playhouses, of greenhouses full of perfect seedlings or 8 tier rainbow cakes with extra sprinkles! Work with the skills and interests of your own family. Use what you have in your house and within your means. Play does not have to be expensive – pots, pans, cushions, blankets, dried pasta and rice, felt-tips, recycled plastic bottles, clothes pegs, paper and washing up liquid are all great play items.

Classic party and playground games – no resources needed
There are a reason that some games persist through the years and can be classified as ‘oldies but goodies’. Here are some simple playground and party games that require no resources and can be played in or outdoors.

Creeping games – Granny’s footsteps, What’s the time Mr. Wolf?
Hiding games – Hide n Seek, Sardines. If you’re short on space, hide a toy.
Clapping patterns and songs – pat a cake, See See my darling, A sailor went to sea, sea, sea. You might know some others. Some have nonsense or cheeky lyrics! Make up your own! The British Library have more info here:
Rock-paper-scissors (or the more complicated Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock!)
Guessing game classics –  I spy, Charades, 20 questions

Low resource creative play
Den building – use blankets, cushions, pegs, sleeping bags. Find more ideas here:
Junk modelling – use recycled materials to craft unique creations and contraptions. If your house can cope with a little overspill and creative mess, creations can be added to over a number of days.
Colouring, sketching, painting, printing – use what you have! Potatoes, fingers, feet, toilet rolls, brushes, feathers, Lego etc.
Loose parts art – nature inspired if you can play outdoors (search Andrew Goldsworthy or James Brunt for inspiration; think sticks, stones, daisies, dandelions, cherry blossom). Man-made loose parts could be Lego, cocktail sticks, buttons, dried pasta, rice of beans, whole spices, sequins or just small squares of paper.
Dressing up – it doesn’t need to be real costumes. Hats, ties, waistcoats, wigs, headbands – who are you going to be?
Put on a show! – dance, sing, play instruments, learn the Cups song or The GitUp dance, pretend to be Simon Cowell, hand up a sheet to make a pop-up puppet theatre!
Bubble play – washing up liquid and water will do. What makes a good bubble blower? Try out slatted spoons, sieves, flower pots, bend a paper clip, use a toilet roll tube. Or make a bubble-snake! –

Low resource active play
Obstacle course – indoors or outdoors. How can you stay off the floor?
French Skipping – also known as Elastics. If you don’t have other people to play with, you can use chair legs to hold the elastic. Classic rhymes (England Ireland, Scotland Wales…), or make up a routine to a current tune.
Target challenge – ‘shooting hoops’. Use a soft ball or a rolled up (clean!) sock and chuck it at a bucket!  Make up a points system, move the bucket further away or have several goals.
Hopscotch – use chalk to mark an outdoor course; masking tape works well on laminate floor and carpet.
Get outside for your daily exercise – if you can, get outdoors. Go for a walk, a scoot or a ride. Make your own ‘spotting lists’ or ‘treasure hunts’ before you go. Can you find a flying insect, a purple flower, a yellow car, a graffiti tag, a rainbow in a window?

Community supporting playful ideas
Draw a rainbow to display in your window. Mix it up – how about a rainbow Pokemon or a rainbow heart? How can you add your own creative twist?
Window wonder – use your windows to help entertain others! Hide teddies for a ‘Bear Hunt’, or eggs for an Easter egg hunt. What else would the children in your neighbourhood like to see? You could leave positive signs for friends that walk past your house or draw their favourite toys and TV characters.
Paint and hide rocks – use sharpies, paints, old nail varnish. Wash your hands before you paint. If you pick up a rock from outside, wash it for 20 seconds when you wash your hands.
Make some noise – if you take part in a ‘clap for support workers’ event, you can make your own shaker or musical instrument to make some noise!

Dig out old games
Is there anything you haven’t played with in a while? When was the last time you played Snap? Or did a jigsaw? Have you got an old console that you haven’t used for a while? Have you got any toys tucked away that haven’t been played with for ages?

Don’t worry, be silly!
Talk like a pirate day– ooh arr!Have a backwards day – clothes on backwards, walk backwards, pudding before dinnerLet someone else do your make-up, and wear it out on your daily exercise
Funky hair dos – let someone give you a funky hair style and wear it for the day
Swap clothes with someone in your family
Kitchen disco – turn the music up and dance, dance, dance
and don’t forget…….THE FLOOR IS LAVA!

Rachel Murray is a mentor for OPAL Outdoor Play and Learning

A non-profit organization dedicated to improving play in schools

Play in a time of lock-down

Play in a time of lock-down

Play is essential to the mental and physical well being of children wherever they are. During the period of lock-down we will continue to support schools, parents and carers with ideas to enrich children’s play opportunities. We will do this by posting links to the many other organisations providing great ideas, posting bi-weekly updates of ideas from the OPAL team and linking with some of our national partners.


The Conversation – A discussion on the value of play during lock-down

Encourage Play – Ideas for play at home


Play Scotland

Youth Sport Trust

Scouting Association

Play Wales (Playful childhoods)


 (a variety of games, activities and resources to keep children learning at home).

Zoo webcams

Indoor activities

Live shows, outdoor expeditions, Deadly 60  

Website has lots of fun activities for kids that are reasonably easy to organise and fun

Interactive learning through songs, art, videos and games.

Music, exercise and activity

PE with Joe  

Go Noodle  (lots of songs with actions to keep fit)

BBC Super Movers

Cosmic Yoga

Learn to dance with Oti Mabuse every day at 11.00 and at any time

Our Partners

Sport England Logo - London Sport

Stay in Work out

Ideas for keeping active from Sport England –

The Daily Mile UK

The Daily Mile at home – Ideas for keeping active during the lock-down

Take the Play Challenge

Schools want to improve playtimes, they may want to improve behaviour, create happier playtimes, increase physical activity or mental well-being. But it is not a matter of simply laying some playground markings, putting in a trim trail or adding a few loose parts.

Michael Follett set up OPAL – Outdoor Play and Learning – as a community interest company over five years ago. Since then, hundreds of schools across the UK, as well as schools in Canada, New Zealand and Australia have successfully completed the OPAL Primary Programme.

Here, he explains how he persuades Headteachers to invest in play development.

Read the blog on the Play England Website

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