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Outdoor Play and Learning

We are excited to have started our OPAL journey and can already see how the children are engaging with and exploring our new areas.

As we continue our journey, we remain committed to ensuring quality play opportunities are available to ALL our children. We believe that play is essential for physical, emotional, social, spiritual and intellectual development.


What is OPAL?


OPAL is a programme dedicated to improving the quality of play opportunities for all children. It is designed to support schools to permanently change both their environment and their culture to enable provision of amazing playtimes every day.


Why have we introduced OPAL?


Children spend up to 20% of their time in school at play. Therefore this time needs to be coherent and planned for. Changes in society such as heavier traffic, busier lifestyles, less areas for play and awareness of risk have led to ‘play poverty’ for today’s children. This makes their play opportunities at school even more vital.

Better play leads to happier children and in turn less behaviour problems, a more positive attitude to school, skills development, fewer accidents and more effective learning in the classroom as less staff time is spent resolving issues.

2016 data from ‘Public Health England’ shows the national average obesity rates for children in reception year of school are 9.1%.  This increases to 10.7% within Sunderland.  For year 6 pupils the average obesity rates nationally is 19.1%.  This increases to 22.4% within Sunderland. (Public Health England, 2016)

Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that ‘A child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.’


Benefits of the OPAL Primary Programme


More teaching time - Most schools report 10 minutes more teaching time per teacher with happier, more creative, and well exercised children who settle to classes much more quickly.


Improved behaviour - OPAL schools report up to 80% decreases in use of behaviour policies and 90% drops in senior leadership time spent in resolving playtime issues.


Faster core skills development - Children at OPAL schools rapidly develop creativity, imagination, cooperation, resilience, stamina and confidence.


Inclusion - OPAL's approach makes play better for every child, every day... no exceptions!

Happiness and wellbeing - Play is a human need and a human right. Children and staff at OPAL's schools report feeling less stressed and happier, and more excited about school.


What is Play?


Play is any freely chosen activity which a child finds satisfying and creative. It may or may not involve equipment or other people. It may be serious or light hearted. It may produce something or it may be done simply for its own sake. It allows children an opportunity to be creative and make decisions.


We recognise that play may need to make a noise, get dirty, make a mess and sometimes be out of the direct gaze of adults. We believe the role of the adults is to support the play process. Children will also have the opportunity for ‘free range’ play within the school grounds.


Bob Hughes (2002) identified 16 types of play which children engage in.  It is our aim to enable children to access all of these different play types within our school grounds. 


Risk assessment and play


An essential element of exploration within the medium of play is the opportunity for children to experience freely chosen activities, where they can take acceptable risks and challenge themselves beyond their existing capabilities. Allowing children to take acceptable risk develops their ability to judge risk independently and learn new skills.


‘All children both need and want to take risks in order to explore limits, venture into new experiences and develop their capacities, from a very young age and from their earliest play experiences. Children would never learn to walk, climb stairs or ride a bicycle unless they were strongly motivated to respond to challenges involving a risk of injury.’     (Play England, 2006)


‘HSE fully supports the provision of play for all children in a variety of environments.  HSE understand and accepts that this means children will often be exposed to play environments which, whilst well managed, carry a degree of risk and sometimes potential dangers’   (HSE, 2013)


What do the children use?

A large part of OPAL is the ‘loose parts’ that children play with. This can be anything from small pieces of Lego that they use to build a small house or ropes and sheets they might use to build a den.


Areas we are developing for the children to use

We are slowly developing our outdoor area for the children to enjoy as much as they possibly can. We have already developed our small world, mud kitchen, performance stage and den building areas. Next we will be investing in a new shed where we can store more loose parts for the children to bring out and enjoy. We will also be developing our grassed areas to include a digging and planting area and tyre play area.


Will my child get dirty?

A big part of OPAL is all weather play and we will be outside as much as we can so please ensure your child has a suitable, weatherproof outdoor coat. If the weather really doesn’t cooperate and we feel it creates a risk to the children then we still have the option of indoor play. As OPAL promotes all weather play, there is a chance that children will get dirty, especially in the mud kitchen, tree climbing and grassed areas.

Next week we will be opening up our grassed areas and developing more zones such as a digging and planting area and tyre play area.

During wet weather, when the grass is muddy, we insist that children wear wellies rather than school shoes to go on the grass. If you would like your child to access these areas then please ensure they bring in a pair of wellies which can be kept at school.


How you can help

You can always help us by donating any unwanted, good quality materials you have at home; we always need loose parts and greatly appreciate these throughout the year;

  • cable rolls/wheels
  • plastic or metal buckets
  • kitchen utensils, pots, pans, plastic plates etc. for the mud kitchen.
  • watering cans, guttering, hosepipes, wheel barrows, trowels, small shovels etc.
  • large fabric sheets
  • dressing up clothes
  • dolls, push chairs, prams
  • Foam pipe covers and pool noodles
  • Keyboards and old CDs (nothing explicit)
  • Old household appliances (hoovers, microwaves etc.)
  • Old briefcases and suitcases and handbags
  • Tarpaulins
  • Milk crates, wooden pallets 
  • Old wheelchair and Zimmer frames

Please nothing glass, sharp, or broken.

We are also looking for local contacts in industry who might be able to help us replenish our supplies regularly….so if you know someone, please share with them our OPAL plans and ask if they would be willing to support us with any donations.

If you do have any further suggestions of how to help us on our OPAL journey, please get in touch.