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Outdoor Play and Learning

Since October 2015, our school has been improving play literacy by taking part in our OPAL project. OPAL stands for Outdoor Play and Learning and is a programme developed by Michael Follett.

Michael developed OPAL in response to demand from schools for help in resolving issues at playtime, including boredom, high levels of accidents and playground incidents, lack of respect for supervisors and a constant stream of low-level behaviour problems, as well as a desire to improve the quality of children’s play experience in school. Schools expected the resolution to lie in better occupation for the children such as playground games, behaviour management training for the supervisors or more equipment for the children. All of these were tried during the programme’s development, but none had a significant lasting effect. This is why Michael developed the OPAL approach with the basic aim of enhancing opportunities for children’s play in schools. Within the programme play is defined as behaviour that is ‘freely chosen, intrinsically motivated and personally directed’, a definition drawn from Playwork Principles (PPSG, 2005).

In Ludworth Primary School we have an OPAL group involving the head teacher, a lunch time play leader and a group of children we call OPAL Mentors. This groups meets regularly to evaluate play during playtimes. Developments are planned and children present ideas to governors – particularly when there is money involved! We have weekly OPAL assemblies where children evaluate the quality of play and negotiate any issues. The whole school developed a charter outlining children's responsibilities if we are to achieve our aim of 'Everyone Enjoys Playtime'.

We have developed our school field and playground so that we can maximise their use for good quality play. The play co-ordinator meets regularly with the play lead to develop regular and exciting focused play activities, such as box day, chalk play, camp building, weaving and bottle play. Recently, our OPAL Mentors took charge of a sizeable budget and used it to plan an improvement to our fixed equipment in the school playground. This is now fully installed and it looks amazing. The children love it!

We are delighted with the impact our OPAL ethos has on playtimes. Children have developed their play skills and there are fewer problems at play times. We have hosted a play picnic on our school field which was attended by parents. Everyone had a lot of fun! We are delighted to have been awarded OPAL's Platinum Play Award.

In 2023 we have re-engaged with the company who run the OPAL project so that we can refresh our practice and hopefully gain re-accreditation.  Fingers crossed for a positive outcome!