Playground Management

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Playground Management


Playtime is an essential part of the school day. As well as providing a much needed break for staff and students it is an opportunity for the children to develop essential skills in interacting socially with their peers. However, it can also be one of the most challenging times of the school day.

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Common factors that lead to playground difficulties

Over crowding – children need a lot of space. Primary children require space to run about, organise games etc. Older students also need space to find friends at breaks, catch up and chat. Some schools, during the summer months, use playing fields as extensions to their playgrounds and this usually has the impact of reducing the number of behaviour incidents. Other schools use staggered break times in order to reduce the number of children on smaller playgrounds.

Too wide an age range together – In primary playgrounds there can be quite a range between the age and size of the youngest and oldest children. With so many children running about playing games there is always an inevitable collision about to happen. Most of the time this is not serious but occasionally there can be injuries. The risk of injury obviously increases if the collision is between a small and larger child. In small schools everyone in the same playground may work well enough if these incidents occur rarely. In larger schools there is more need to zone the playgrounds into areas reserved for younger or older children.

Football – Playing sport and other activities that encourage physical movement and running around are really positive ways for children to spend their playtimes. Research indicates that these activities have a positive impact on learning. However, games can also become over competitive with some children experiencing an emotional rollercoaster of emotions. This is particularly so for football where those playing, particularly boys, mirror the poor behaviour of football stars. This can frequently lead to short tempers, fouls and heated arguments and swearing. The result of this is that some students arrive back in class pumped up with stress hormones and these have a negative impact on learning and behaviour. The other factor to consider with games organised by the children themselves is that quite often less popular children can become excluded.

No quiet area – Playgrounds are often very visually busy and extremely noisy. For some students who have sensory hyper-sensitivity playgrounds can feel overwhelming and lead to increased chance of meltdowns or shutdowns. It is useful for everyone using the playground to have zoned areas where quieter activities are only allowed. This helps to keep boistrous activities contained and allows imaginative play to flourish. For the sensory hyper-sensitive children, space in building alcoves or against walls or trees may help to reduce their overall sensory load.

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Poor supervision – It is very tempting as a member of staff on duty to want to use the break as an opportunitiy to 'catch up' with a colleague. The result of this is that too often staff are static, not focussed on the children and reactive rather proactive in managing the playground. The number of incidents in a playground reduce significantly when staff engage in roaming observations and use their physical presence to diffuse potential incidents such as when a 'fight is brewing'.

Poor social skills – During play children very quickly negotiate and organise games, agree rules and do this with minimal communication using a range of unspoken social rules and values. For children with social communication difficulties, who struggle to understand or perceive these social rules, the playground can be a bewildering and frustrating place. These children often benefit from interventions which explicitly teach playground social rules and playground games.

Lack of conflict resolution skills – children generally lack the skills to resolve difficulties for themselves. Adults, both at home and at school, can often too quickly intervene to mediate disputes with the result that children miss out on opportunities to develop these essential life skills. Thus all children can benefit from the explicit teaching of conflict resolution skills. Trained peer mediators is a useful strategy tried in many schools.

Bullying – in all schools there is always some form of emotional or social bullying behaviour going on. Some children are more vulnerable to bullying than others often because they have characteristics that can be identified as different from others or they have some additional needs that makes them stand apart from their peers. Approaches to tackling bullying that focus on building resilience skills in victims and also helping perpetrators to recognise their behaviour and make positive change can be highly effective in reducing bullying.

Poor self esteem – children with a low perception of self worth are more likely to have difficulties at break times. They are generally less resilient to the normal 'ups and downs' of friendships and some may be overly reliant on just one friend. Poor self-esteem can present as a lack of confidence and withdrawn behaviour or contrastingly as controlling behaviour that appears as confidence.

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You may also be interested in the following resources:

Calming Strategies

Index of group games suitable for playground and circle time

Stop Bullying Now Resources

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