Tag Archive: play

  1. Take a risk on play

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    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.

    References

    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

  2. Five top tips to help you navigate playtimes during the pandemic

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    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

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

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    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

  4. Protecting Play

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    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: http://www.bl.uk/playtimes/videos/an-intoduction-to-clapping-games
    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: https://youtu.be/9tOyS3jrKS4
    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! – https://youtu.be/MJPCNaefZ4I

    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