Helping all children become happy learners
Playtime is an essential part of a primary 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.
Common factors that lead to playground difficulties
Children need a lot of space. Primary children require space to run about, organise games etc. Children also need space to find friends at breaks, catch up and chat. Crowded playgrounds tend to lead to more incidents as children compete for space and collisions and conflicts occur.
When the weather permits use playing fields as extensions to their playgrounds.
Stagger break times for different year groups in order to reduce the number of children on smaller playgrounds.
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. Accidental collisions between older and younger children can be perceived as bullying behaviour by the younger child.
Where the playground is larger enough zoning off the playgrounds into areas reserved for younger or older children is easy to achieve.
Further sub-divide zones to provide an area for youngest year group in phase
Zone off quiet areas where children of different ages can still mix
Using a daily rota for particular zones e.g. area allowed for team games
Staggering playtimes so upper and lower parts of the school do not share a small playground
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 (soccer) 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.
Have daily rotas for year groups to play these games to reduce their impact.
Some schools ban these games outright but this is often very unpopular with parents and can lead to other forms of rough play. Temporary bans can however be useful.
Direct staff to supervise and 'referee' these games. Use 'red cards' or time out for children who are getting over emotional or exhibiting poor behaviour.
Have clear visual rules displayed with behaviour rules for these games. E.g. swearing, being unkind, aggressive or risky behaviour.
Use Playground Buddies or other school prefect roles to organise and manage games involving younger children.
Provide alternative staff organised games.
Playgrounds are often very visually busy and extremely noisy. For children with sensory needs 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, creating quiet zones in spaces such as building alcoves or against walls or trees may help to reduce their overall sensory load.
Permanent structures, such as a gazebo, can provide shelter. Use of large outdoor plant tubs is also a cost efficient way of creating sheltered areas.
Some children may need Escape Cards that give them permission to go into the school building to a agreed safe area. This is often near the school office or staffroom where there can be some incidental staff supervision.
Measure the average decibel level at different parts of the playground to identify the best places to provide calming areas.
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'.
Provide training for staff on managing the playground and positive behaviour management
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.
Children with weak social skills can benefit from interventions which explicitly teach playground social rules and playground games.
Introduce play buddies to help organise games for younger children.
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.
All children can benefit from the explicit teaching of conflict resolution skills.
Introduce and train peer mediators who can help support younger children.
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.
Provide initatives that build resilience skills in children vulnerable to bullying.
Use restorative approaches with perpetrators to recognise their behaviour and make positive changes.
Peer mediators or 'Bench Buddies' can help reduce playground bullying by giving vulnerable children someone to talk to.
Use Circle of Friends to create support group for vulnerable children.
Children with a low self-esteem 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. Equally children with ASD, social anxiety or communication difficulties may struggle with developing friendships.
Social skills groups can help children develop friendship skills.
Encourage vulnerable children to participate in organised playground games
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