OPAL (Outdoor Play and Learning)

Research has shown that children spend 20% of their time in school playing. To ensure that this time and our fantastic school grounds are used to their full potential our school has adopted an OPAL (Outdoor Play and Learning) philosophy that allows the children freedom to explore play in their own imaginative ways, often using found and gathered resources in the natural outdoor environment.

Why are we following the OPAL programme?

One reason we are carrying out this programme is that childhood has changed and many children no longer get their play needs met out of school.

  • Average screen time per day 5 hours
  • Average outdoor play time per week 5 hours
  • Percentage of UK children who only play outdoors with other children at school 56%

There are many proven benefits for schools which carry out the OPAL Programme. They usually include: more enjoyment of school, less teaching time lost to disputes between children, less accidents and greatly improved behaviour.

What our children think?

School Council Comments:

What we’ve been up to?

Take a look at the pictures below to find out what OPAL looks like at our school.

The benefits of play

1. Children learn through their play

Don’t underestimate the value of play. Children learn and develop:

  • cognitive skills – like math and problem solving in a pretend grocery store
  • physical abilities – like fundamental skills, balancing and travelling on the playground
  • fitness – expending more energy and effort as they explore and engage in active play
  • new vocabulary – like the words they need to play with toy dinosaurs
  • social skills – like playing together in a pretend car wash
  • literacy skills – like creating a menu for a pretend restaurant

2. Play is healthy

Play helps children grow strong and healthy. It also counteracts obesity issues facing many children today

3. Play reduces stress

Play helps your children grow emotionally. It is joyful and provides an outlet for anxiety and stress

4. Play is more than meets the eye

Play is simple and complex.  There are many types of play: symbolic, sociodramatic, functional, and games with rules-–to name just a few. Researchers study play’s many aspects:  how children learn through play, how outdoor play impacts children’s health, the effects of screen time on play, to the need for recess in the school day.

5. Make time for play

As parents, you are the biggest supporters of your children’s learning. You can make sure they have as much time to play as possible during the day to promote cognitive, language, physical, social, and emotional development.

6. Play and learning go hand-in-hand

They are not separate  activities. They are intertwined. Think about them as a science lecture with a lab. Play is the child’s lab.

7. Play outside

Remember your own outdoor experiences of building forts, playing on the beach, sledding in the winter, or playing with other children in the neighbourhood. Make sure your children create outdoor memories too.

8. Trust your own playful instincts

Remember as a child how play just came naturally? Give your children time for play and see all that they are capable of when given the opportunity.

9. Play is a child’s context for learning

Children practice and reinforce their learning in multiple areas during play. It gives them a place and a time for learning that cannot be achieved through completing a worksheet. For example, when playing in the ‘mud café’, children write and draw menus, set prices, take orders, and create the ‘food’.  Play provides rich learning opportunities and leads to children’s success and self-esteem.

How can parents help?

Play is not messing about but is the process that enables children to learn all of the things that cannot be taught, while also feeling like it is fun. There are certain things children must have in order to be able to play. These include:

  • Having clothes that you can play in
  • Having things to play with
  • Having a certain amount of freedom

As the school improves play opportunities for your children, you may find the school is asking you for resources and is making changes about how the children use the school grounds. They may use more of the grounds, for more of the year. Your children may get a bit messier, be exposed to more challenges and have greater freedoms to play where, with whom and how they like. The experiences the school is fostering are essential for children’s physical and mental well-being and health and in line with all current good practice advice on health and safety, well-being and development.

How does it work at Hellingly?

All children in the school (from Reception to Year 6) have the freedom to play where they choose within the school grounds (outside)

A variety of zones, stations, equipment, activities and areas are available to the children and these may vary each day depending on what the children choose to do

Equipment and Zones could include (but are not limited to):

  • Tyres and planks
  • Mud Cafe and kitchen
  • The Mound Digging Area
  • Small world (e.g. dinosaurs, cars, fantasy world)
  • Mini-beast / plant exploring
  • Scooters, skateboards, bikes and other means of transport/travel
  • Hoops, balls, skipping ropes
  • Sports zone
  • Sand-play / sandpit
  • Big chalks and bubbles
  • Crates, containers and cardboard boxes (for den building or whatever the children choose to do)
  • Tree climbing or puddle jumping
  • Performing (music, drama, dressing up)

Each part of the playground is supervised by the Play Team so no child is ever out of sight or sound

The Play Team are based at strategic points to ensure support for play leaders and the safety of the children

Children are asked to be responsible for the equipment and tidying it away at the end of the session

Children are allowed to roam so wellies and old outdoor coats are recommended (they then change into their indoor shoes when coming back to class)

The OPAL Play Team (which includes Governors, Senior Leaders, Staff and Parents) regularly reviews the OPAL project to make sure it continues to be effective, safe and exciting for all children

OPAL Downloads