The second day of scrap play! I was looking forward to seeing the differences between the two days, like the play that was taking place, or the staff attitudes. I particularly wanted to see what differences I could make to the scrap I put out, like taking away certain components or decreasing the amount. I arrived at the school about 11.45 and started sorting through the materials that were tucked away into the outdoor Reading Corner. Yesterday a couple of issues had arisen from the headteacher. The amount of bits of rubbish like tape and paper that was spread across the playground, took me an hour to pick up after the children had gone inside. I wanted them to have some junk modeling alongside the larger scrap objects, just to give them the opportunity to make stuff that they could take home. The mess that was left behind brought a suggestion from the head that Tuesday’s session could be just the larger pieces that couldn’t break apart like the smaller cardboard boxes, plastic food containers etc. So on the Tuesday I rummaged through and removed all the bits and pieces and piled it all up in the corner, which I’d sort through after-school. I hadn’t got the scrap over to the playground before the year one’s had excitedly ran out, so I had a team of them helping carry everything over from the corner, I had tiny people no taller than my waist carrying huge bags of thick cardboard tubes and boxes heavier than themselves. They didn’t mind, the excitement clearly had made them into mini-Michelin men.

The scrap was in the space and as I approached with the last thing I noticed that they had distributed it already to various points in the entire area. The outdoor space is split into an astro-turfed area at the bottom level containing benches, trees, painted walls, a circular tree hideaway and pathways collared with flowers and plants. This was next to the larger playground that was typically used for the football. Then there was a smaller playground on the higher level that was a bit more colourful and varied, with four or five wigwams, two pieces of fixed play equipment, real grass and astro-turf. There was benches and tables in shade and a large hut that the children could climb inside and make a home for the recess period. This was transformed with fabrics and tape by the end of the day.

There was scrap pieces spread right across these spaces, but I felt less apprehensive about the clear-up because it was all whole pieces that were easy enough to just pick up by the children and bring to the middle of the playground at the end of the day. This was another point that I made in my meeting with the school at the beginning, the involvement of the children during the clear-up. I explained in the meeting initially that I wanted the children to come out, play, then go back inside. I didn’t want them to use up their playtime tidying up – that’s not very playful. Now, because it’s a school, I had to respect their need for ‘packing away’ just like they would in the classroom. I had to compromise, the school was allowing me to bring my idea into their playground and I was grateful. The emphasis of children learning that they can’t expect others to pick up after them all the time, was important at the school, fair enough they are being taught about life. Also there was the want of consistency – once I had gone home and the school decided to carry these scrap-play on themselves, the children would be expected to tidy up at the end of the lunch. So the Monday I had the children just go on inside and I picked everything up, but on the Tuesday at 2.45 I had the year one teachers say to me,

“We’ll get them to start tidying in a minute, yeah?”

In this boiling heat I didn’t like the thought of traipsing around collecting everything, with Parents Evening echoing at the back of my mind. The head had asked me on the Monday if I could make sure that the playground was spotless for the parents evening on the Tuesday evening… gulp.

So I suggested that we just asked them to bring everything to the middle of the playground rather than pack anything away, and the teachers encouraged them to organise the pieces into piles of ropes, cardboard, plastic, fabrics ext. Most of them seemed to enjoy this sorting process and looked pleased with themselves, as I congratulated them with lots of “thank-yous” and “well-dones”. The day went splendiferously, and I had so much positive feedback off the children! ‘Agent Roberts’ from the spy agency wanted to find out why I was here and whether I was planning on coming back again soon, he needed to find out my top-secret information!

“Agent R has investigated the playtime and he thinks it much better than normal days – he thinks everyone is happier and playtime is much better now that Lily is here”.

“Millie thinks that the school should have somebody like me all the time”.

I’m sat on a wall cross-legged, jotting down a few ideas and observations, I have children coming up to me showing me what they have made, what they think of today (and me) and how they wish it was like this all the time. I felt bad for them that tomorrow was going to be a just a normal day. It got to the end of lunch and the headteacher came out to see how things were going, she was very happy with the lack of children coming inside to see her, when they are in trouble.

“Its been lovely today, I haven’t had any children sitting outside my office! Its been so peaceful!”

I laughed, “Ah yes, that just shows doesn’t it what a positive effect this change has had, I have had a couple of children complaining of snatching and ‘hogging’, but nothing has been left unresolved, or has escalated into something serious. The dinner staff haven’t got angry at anybody and I’ve only seen one child with a scratched knee. But it’s not the accidents really that is an issue to me, because kids need to take risks, but how they’re dealing with their conflicts – that is good to see”.

I wouldn’t expect the children to all get on and in some ways predict how they’d behave as that is quite anti-play, but to see a positive outcome is useful to me as it confirms my belief that the more enriching and flexible a child’s play-environment, the more they acquire skills, which transfer to daily life. As Richard Louv says:

“A typical list of loose parts for a natural play area might include water, trees, bushes, flowers, and long grasses, a pond and the creatures in it, along with other living things, sand (best if it can be mixed with water), places to sit in, on, under; structures that offer privacy and views. Go beyond that play area, to woods, fields, and streams, and the parts become looser and even more potent to the imagination.”

The theory advocates that the more loose elements in a play space that a child can pick up, move and manipulate the more playful interaction they can achieve. So if children have access to a range of materials which have no defined purpose, they will access a wider range of play types and be more inventive in the ways and in what they play. Obviously the play-ground isn’t the same as a woodland, which is probably the most valuable environment for children to play in, but whilst they’re in school they need to have access to some aspects of a natural environment and have the ability to manipulate it.

The risk-aversion in schools is frustrating for any Playworker and for the school staff themselves, because of the fear of what Jimmy’s parents are going to say – and do – when they get a call from the school asking them to meet him at the hospital because of a broken arm or massive lump on the top of his head. Accidents will happen! So whilst the children are having immense fun playing with the bamboo sticks I had provided, fighting each other like I had expected, I’ve got a headteacher next to me worried about the risk of eyes being poked out. Understandable from her perspective, the responsibility on her shoulders affects her decisions and she has to worry about what could go wrong. But from my perspective, I have a group of six year-olds having a tremendous time blocking swipes and clashing swords with the enemy.

I see young boys learning how to grasp the use of this tool effectively, just like they would if they picked up the infamous stick from outside in a park or in the woods? But when on the school grounds, it’s the responsibility of the staff to make sure accidents happen as little possible. I suggested in response to the anxiety I was receiving from the head, that once they have gone inside I’ll remove these [natural, flexible components] for the last two hours of the afternoon with the year ones. I wouldn’t have if it was my own setting, but compromises have to be made when working with /against other authorities. It’s important to liaise with indifference, discuss and try our best as play-advocates to encourage change. The fear of parents taking action, and the possibility of the reputation of a popular school being tainted because of an ‘avoidable’ incident is putting pressure on schools and anywhere in general to be more vigilant and controlling over what children experience. Everyone just needs to CHILL.

I couldn’t chill, the heat was making just being outside more difficult. We encouraged the children to take the scrap to the shade and then to pop inside for a drink. Mind you, the children didn’t complain at all about the heat and it didn’t seem to prevent them from playing. Whilst they were inside having some water, I decided to make a hammock out of bed linen, hang it up on the monkey bars and wait for their return.

“Oh cool!”

“Can you lift me so I can get in?”

“Can you make me one please?”

“How do I get up?”

I collected more sheets from around me and hung another five or six hammocks off the monkey bars, the children were bringing me a sheet asking for their own, I had to explain that they can’t have their ‘own’ but they can share and take turns. So they had formed queues, frantically waiting for a go. Some were swinging on their bellies, one boy had wrapped himself in the fabric and had an adult twisting and releasing him into a spin, some were sat in them with their legs dangling and a couple were spacious enough to lie in completely. This was a good intervention! At the end of the afternoon, the children were asked by the teachers to bring everything to the middle, and arrange in piles. I walked around expressing my gratitude for the help.

The children were collected after school, and I spent a hot, gruelling hour untangling all the rope…

The whole point of these two days was to:

•see the changes in the children and staff when the children were more occupied, having control and ownership over their play environment

•show the school an experience for the children that would be worthwhile in repeating again and hopefully be a permanent addition to their play-time

•gain experience for myself working with local schools, improving play opportunities

•give the children a moment or twenty, that they wont forget in a hurry.



Any other schools in the Bath, Somerset or Bristol area interested in some support/advice of any sort in their school play-times, please email me.

Over and out.