I have been planning this chance to transform a school playground for months now, the idea came to me in my sleep one morning and I woke up thinking “Yeah that’s a fab idea- I’m going to do this”. I collected scrap and random objects/materials for weeks, also taking a trip to Children’s Scrapstore for a previous Sunday Funday, but the Play Team on my local council said I could keep what I got for these sessions I was planning. In the beginning I discussed with Karen Fleming on the Play Team what schools in BANES would benefit the most from additional play opportunities during break times. I narrowed the list down to Paulton Infants Primary School, in between the cities of Bath and Bristol. This school had a fantastic play ethic already, but just needed that final push for changes in their lunchtimes. The idea of providing scrap materials to schools, was based on that of the PlayPod from Children’s Scrapstore, but my twist was that my service was free and included a very enthusiastic Playworker!

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I met up with the school for a meeting at the beginning of May to discuss what I had to offer, why I was doing it and how would it benefit their school in particular. I told them my idea was started off by a ‘summer project’ set by my Fine Art degree in which we had the freedom to take on any personal challenge and submit it in June- but it was more than that to me. I wanted the project to link in with my practise as a Playworker and to contribute to my ongoing reflective practise.

The issues that were anticipated by myself initially were the participation of dinner staff during the play-time, the flexibility of the materials and the ‘Playworkers-spit-as-they-say-it’ Elf n’ safety. The dinner staff weren’t play trained as such, but when I was acquainted, seemed immediately in agreement with my attitude towards play-time in schools. The attitude that the kids should have the best place possible to play during the most important part of the day and that they should be exposed to risk and challenge during this time. Then one woman giggled out a comment about having two broken arms in last two weeks. I smiled. Suzi was keen to photocopy my ‘quick-tips’ sheet on loose-parts play from my research folder to put on the staff room table. These weren’t touched for the two days I was there- maybe this was lack of interest, or teachers and TAs thought they knew it all already.

The name ‘Lilz Scrap’ was chosen and the idea was based on the theory of Fraser Brown’s Compound Flexibility- this said that the more flexible components/materials a child has within his play environment, he develops the strategies, resilience and skills to cope with adversity and change in daily life. I was strongly influenced by The Pop-up Adventure Play, where kids were creating their own play spaces using scrap materials such as boxes, sheets of fabric and cardboard tubes. I also have always felt strongly about materialism and children- the issue of over-indulgence, inflexible toys made of plastic and the decreasing capability of exercising their imaginations. This self-built space is exactly what I wanted for the four to six year olds at the school. Their play-ground I hadn’t seen before hand, so I didn’t know what to expect when I turned up at 8am on Monday morning with my dad’s work van filled to the brim with all sorts of interesting, flexible STUFF. The sort of bits I had collected over time was things like bed sheets, tubes, sticks, boxes, giant reels, ropes, giant cushions (that someone had kindly rescued from Radstock College skip), nets, junk modelling (which proved a personal challenge in such a large space) and many other foamy, plastic-y bits and bobs. I was kitted out in my “Lilz Scrap” t shirt and had plenty of energy, awaiting my introduction to the six classes of excited, curious little faces. I had a lovely welcome of waves and standing-up-on-knees ovation, I was introduced by Suzi Smith a reception class teacher and the school’s SENCO. Suzi is well on-board with all this ‘Play stuff’ and was very keen to give the children a more enriching, valuable play-space during their playtime.

In my opinion play is not about ‘learning via’ or ‘progressing’, its about being and relishing in that moment. The child at play is not something to tamper with, something that’s so magical shouldn’t have ‘learning outcomes’ and expectations. A member of staff told me on Tuesday that the reception class hadn’t grasped what the British flag looked like and they only need to know the colours, and that the year ones should be more aware of the flag lines and so should know where to put the colour. I responded with “Well it doesn’t really matter whether they know how to draw our flag, I’m a 22 year-old art student and I wouldnt know how to draw it”. Its all being well and good to teach children about different countries- I’m not disputing that- but its little comments like this thats why i’m basing my dissertation on the issue of the school cuts being forced to squeeze the arts out. This topic works hand in hand with play because isnt all play creative? Its not about goals, templates and ‘criteria requirements’, it just is what it is. If the play teaches the child about the world around them, then that’s just a bonus isn’t it. I’m not having a go at teachers at all, its the curriculum that dictates what is taught and teachers use their skills to make the curriculum as creative as they can. I have a friend who is a primary teacher and he supports the arts completely, but when he teaches, the only room he has for art, music and drama is when it is made into a task- like a project for a presentation or a performance that they need to practise for. Its a shame when so many children flourish from creative subjects and not core subjects like maths and reading. All children should be supported to do what they enjoy, in and out of the classroom.

As I carry the boxes and bags full of scrap towards the middle of the playground, the kids rush towards it with screams of delight. I loved their excitement, it may as well as been Christmas with Santa bringing lots of new, shiny toys- but it think I beat Santa. The kids immediately rummaged and threw, hit and scrambled for the most appealing objects. The sheets were left in the bags, probably because they were used to seeing bed sheets at home all the time, so things like foam cylinders and huge bright coloured nets attracted their gaze.

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“Why have you brought all of this to us?”

“Are we allowed to play with all of this?”

“How do we play with this stuff?”

This was just a couple of the questions posed by the children. it was a bit sad that some of them didnt know what to do with it and struggled to join in. The play that was taking place evolved. It transformed into games, made objects, designated spaces, teams and a mix of eratic carrying/throwing/knotting (see below image) and hoarding.

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The hoarding element intrigued me, I took pictures of children stuffing scrap into bigger pieces of scrap then sitting with it. The ‘ownership’ the kids had been empowered with, which they usually wouldn’t have access to at playtime, was revelled in like melted chocolate on a wrapper. They made the most of “doing whatever they wanted to do”. The objects that I seen being carried around during the afternoon, either got exchanged with other’s goodies or were dropped frequently in search of something else. The fact that the kids had to share, automatically enabled them to form teams of workers. There were ‘stations’ spread around the two playgrounds where they were networking and processing items that were finished with “Am I allowed to take this home?”

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 The sun was hot and I could feel the back of my neck burning. The children didn’t once complain to me of the heat. If they felt hot they moved their play into the shade or the sheltered spots under the wigwams that were around the side of the school. These wigwams worked well with the scrap, the children tended to stick tubes and sticks through the structures and then hung materials off it. Image

The lunch time was a rotation of two settings, first half went inside for lunch just as the second half emerged on the other side. This system was interesting, because I could observe how the kids reacted to structures in the process of being built, and the response to scrap that had been freshly-prepared in the middle of the space. The kids who were on the second half were much more confrontational with each other when approaching the scrap spread around. I had to intervene at one point, making it clear that the scrap was to be played with by everyone. This was after hearing a little girl shout at a group, “nobody touch anything!! You are not allowed to play with this!!” The others instantly approached me with “miiiisssss”.

I could see after resolving this, the group picked things up and away they went. The creativity that was being generated was remarkable, I got to see the children relaxed and spontaneous. Care free, they showed me stuff they had put together with some un-stickied tape, some plastic tubs and card tubes. I received a wonderful variety of ideas that you could tell some had been made up on the spot when asked “Wow, what is it?”

“Its a light-saber”

“Its a sword generator”

“Its a praying-mantis”

“Its a volcano” (see image above)

“Hmm its a, I don’t know I just did it?”

The junk modelling became a issue for the Head, who came by to check out what was going on, “Maybe you could consider leaving the bits of paper out for tomorrow?” I didn’t mind this comment because the kids had the chance today to make stuff they could take home, but tomorrow can be a new day and I wanted to try using just the large, whole pieces alone. This would be more similar to that of the PlayPod. If the sessions ran for a long period then I’d consider introducing things like paint, glue and glitter (I’d love to see the parent’s faces when they pick up their children that day). I noticed that the lunchtime staff were doing exactly as I’d hoped, and it felt great that these women were seeing what I was seeing. As I walked around with a camera, I got to grab brief chats with them.

 “It would be fantastic if the children experienced this everyday”

“The kids need to be kids and fight each other with pretend weapons, that’s just what they do”

“Broken bones will just happen, even just silly reasons like tripping on even ground and falling awkwardly on their arm, you can’t prevent it”

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So the staff shared my beliefs and some shared some knowledge of things like risk-aversion, rough n tumble, play-types and issues with Elf n’ safety. A manic lunch was followed by an afternoon session of reception class playing by themselves. This was quieter, they seemed more focused on what they were doing now the older kids had gone inside.

When the parents came to collect their children at home time, most of them arrived about ten minutes early and stood around chatting. I was busy clearing away the scrap and this task was not going to be a light one. The amount of tiny pieces of paper and tape had made its way to every inch of the playgrounds, both of them. In the boiling heat with sunburn on my back, I soldiered on picking up every last bit of rubbish, and packing everything away for the next day of fun. But the parents didn’t even look over for longer than two seconds, they didn’t seem interested in the amount of stuff filling the playground that’s usually tidy and rubbish-free. The caretaker gulped as he walked past me, seeing all the mess. He didn’t say anything to me. I felt really shattered, I thought the parents would have questioned what had happened. Without talking to them I can’t say what their opinions were of this idea. Most parents give their kids junk modelling and fabrics ect to ‘make’ with, but how many parents regularly pick up some (free) cardboard tubes from a crafts shop for their kids to fight and make telescopes with? It seemed not many with the amount of kids that asked me if they could keep a tube and decorate it at home. When the kids wandered out with red faces and dirty shirts, some of them came by the pile and poked their parents in the arms saying “Look mum! Look mum, that’s the things we were playing with today”, one mum was amazed and asked several questions. She told me she reguarly gets scrap materials for her sons.

One little boy tapped his mum’s arm repeatedly trying to tell her what he’d been up to and pointing me out to her, but she barely turned her head, as if going with the motion. I hope the children went home on this day and told their parents all about their magical afternoon with their dens, their DIY swings, their swords and their blue duct tape stuck together creations.

 

Their elated faces was definetly worth the sunburn.

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