OPAL - Outdoor Play and Learning
At St. Matthew’s we have been thinking about how playtimes are for our children. In May 2022 we started to work with the not-for-profit, OPAL (Outdoor Play and Learning), to improve playtimes for all pupils. We have started to look at play as a subject in itself, planning for play in very much the same way we would look at english or maths. We have our play coordinator – Mrs Collard and a curricular lead for play – Mrs Lowe, as well as a play team consisting of our TA’s and lunchtime supervisors.
The OPAL ethos is that playtimes should be active, creative and involve activities that are freely chosen and directed by the child. It encourages the use of ‘loose parts’ in playtimes: open-ended materials that children can move and use in different ways, such as boxes, crates, sheets, pipes, log rounds, buckets, and blocks.
We allow children to make full use of our site — including our large field, two playgrounds, bus area and meadow — in all seasons and weathers, provided they have the right footwear and clothing. This means they will need to be wearing wellies to play on the field/grass areas in wetter months. To ensure equal access to play, we have a ‘welly shed’ for every year group.
Why is play so important?
During the last 2 years our pupils have lost out on lots of opportunities for play and cooperation. We have seen an increase in the number of pupils who are finding it difficult to form strong friendships, communicate their thoughts effectively and resolve conflicts when they arise. Through our OPAL play work we are beginning to notice an impact on these areas.
Incredibly, children in British primary schools spend 20% (the equivalent of 1.4 years) of their time at school in play, so it’s a really important part of the school day. Through their play, all children encounter, explore and make sense of the world and their place within it. Play can improve a child’s:
- health and wellbeing
- cognitive development
- social development
- understanding of risk and challenge
- resilience and character.
When they are really playing, children will use their entire body and exercise every part of their mind.
The OPAL programme rationale is that “…better, more active and creative playtimes can mean happier and healthier children. And having happier, healthier, more active children usually results in a more positive attitude to learning in school, with more effective classroom lessons, less staff time spent resolving unnecessary behavioural problems, fewer playtime accidents, happier staff and a healthier attitude to life.”
How we are improving playtimes
We are working with OPAL and their play experts to improve our playtimes gradually over the next 18 months and onwards.
We have already made the following improvements:
- All children are accessing the school grounds
- Created a mud kitchen area, in an area that naturally is muddy (this is continuing to be developed)
- Added equipment that we already had – bikes, small loose parts play – lego, dinosaurs, den making equipment
- Opened up an ‘enchanted forest’ that we had and added a piano and drum set
- Started to set up welly sheds for all year groups
- Reached out to parents and the local community for resources such as tyres, baths, slides, canoes, cable drums and crates
- We have music systems in two areas
Over the next few months we will be adding:
- A giant sand pit
- Tyres & crates
- More loose parts such as guttering and lengths of wood
- The loose parts shed for everything to be stored in
- Having our school council be ‘play detectives’ so that they can film and photograph interesting and creative play to share in our play assemblies
- Opening up the bus for children to have another quiet area