School playgrounds

I’ve got myself involved with a group of mums from school to revamp the school playground. It’s currently an asphalt desert with a dearth of nature and things to play on and probably looks much the same as it did in Victorian times when the school was built. I’ve even seen prisons with better playgrounds than our local school. It’s really abysmal.

I brought it up last year when the kids first started at the school and no-one seemed particularly interested in the playground and instead they spent £7,000 on iPads. I think this was a waste of money but that’s a different story. So when a couple of other parents brought up the playground recently and independently of me I jumped at the chance to support them.

Our plan is to get funding through grants so the school and council don’t have to pay for any of it. It sounds like a win-win, right? However there seems to be a lot of resistance to the idea of which I don’t understand. I made the mistake of saying to a couple of teachers that the school playground is dreadful. This is the truth but I may have offended them. It’s almost as though they think the playground is pretty good just as it is and were taken aback by my suggestion. I’m not the most tactful person on the planet and I could have phrased it much better, like, “We could make some really great improvements to the playground” or “I think the children would really benefit from some things to play on and a safer surface”.

Ben thinks that the majority of teachers here have grown up in schools without proper playgrounds and so they don’t see a concrete prison as anything strange for a school. There’s probably also the fear of being sued by parents should little Johnny fall off the slide and break his arm. One argument presented to me by a teacher was that playground equipment might be subject to vandalism. How defeatest is that? Let’s not build a thing and just go and bury ourselves in the mud in case someone vandlises it.

Yesterday I was told that it’s not up to the parents, it’s up to the pupils. Yes, I wholeheartedly agree with this because if the pupils choose an asphalt desert over a proper playground then I’m Donald Trump. The teachers then organised a pupil council which I went along to and when the kids said they’d like a slide and swings they were told, “No”. So it seems that it’s not really up to the pupils after all.

But all hope is not yet lost. We are battling on. I will see how far I get before I admit defeat and give up. Play is an important part of education. Physical activity promotes children’s cognitive abilities, particularly in mathematics and reading; it’s also an essential weapon against the rise of obesity in children. It helps with the development of social skills and creativity and most importantly, it’s where friendships are formed.

22 thoughts on “School playgrounds

  1. I agree that the kids need a decent play area, preferably with some grass and trees. Here in CT the city council has gone round putting up sturdy wooden jungle gyms, like an army assault course, and slides and swings, made out of old tyres. It’s been up ages and not been vandalised. It’s worth a try at your school.
    I went to schools with concrete playgrounds. The girls played skipping and the boys football. I don’t know if kids today do anything physical?
    Good Luck with your project 🙂

    1. Yes, I have been inspired by old car and even tractor tyres from looking at other playgrounds on the web. There are lots of things you can use to make a decent playground that don’t cost very much. Here the boys play football, you are exactly right. I haven’t seen any skipping though. It’s personal for me because Daniel hasn’t made a single friend here. He wanders around the playground by himself. He’s not a football kid and there’s nothing to do but pace around and around which is what he does.

      1. Aw poor Daniel. I can relate totally. We moved across the Pennines when I was 9, and for weeks on end I walked alone round the playground, till eventually I was allowed to hold the rope for others to skip. After more weeks I was allowed to join in.
        I can only imagine how much harder it must be for Daniel. Usually you make a friend in the classroom and then join in with them in the playground. Maybe he could try being Goalie? – not much running around involved. Or take a small game to play with?
        At high school there may be lunchtime clubs, like computer group etc, which he could join.
        So hard, because we are not all inclined to be sociable.

  2. Gee, sounds like a lot of stupid politics here. Good luck in your fight. Mentality of some people just doesn’t make sense, sometimes.

    1. Thanks! Even if we can add just one thing like a climbing frame or monkey bars I’ll feel like we got somewhere and maybe it’ll help them see the benefits of having playground equipment in a playground thus paving the way for more improvements.

  3. Good luck with that Rachel. The inertia of the status quo, huh? I wonder if the teachers worry that it might involve them in more effort and they can’t cope with that? Or that you’re clearly not Scottish and making a good idea? But the excuses are feeble and the aspiration admirable so keep going. Living as I do I London and seeing some marvellous playground ideas spring up with new schools and old I’d say tat vandalism threat is a load of cock. Let’s face it if the school doesn’t have a strong perimeter it’s failing in it’s duty to the kids already so, assuming it has, that will keep 99% of vandals at bay. And these days new playgrounds are made of that reconstituted bouncy rubber where you’d do well to bruise let alone break a bone. Non illegitimi carborundum as they say in Rome!

    1. Thank you! I have seen some great school playgrounds in London on the web in my search for ideas. Some of them are amazing. But yes, part of the resistance probably stems from dislike of change and maybe also my tactlessness.

  4. We got a grant for playground equipment at our local primary school, but the kids are only allowed to use it before and after school if they they have their own responsible adult around. It is possible that even if you got equipment, the possible problems with children falling off and hurting themselves would lead to a similar set up in your school. That is just the way it is.
    I was going to suggest becoming a school governor – it is easier to change things from the top, but it seems you don’t have governing bodies in Scotland and schools are accountable only to the council. It sounds as if it is more of a PHSE issue that Daniel does not have people to play with/things to do during “unstructured time”. Some schools (like ours!) run “play leader” schemes where they provide lunchtime supervisors with the skills to help children out who are having social difficulties, suggesting and organising games etc. It is important for schools to recognise that it is important for lunchtime supervisors (who tend to be TAs in England) to have training in how to manage playground dynamics.

    1. Oh my gosh, Denise, that is so depressing. Why did they do that? Is the school worried about being sued or did the parents want it closed off? That seems so crazy and if that is at all a possibility up here then I would rather not have it because it would defeat the whole purpose which is for them to have somewhere to play while they’re at school.

      I have heard about the lunchtime “play leader” scheme and it sounds like a really great idea and I would definitely welcome it if they wanted to give it a try. However I do think there are benefits to just letting kids choose their own games and have child-led play. But when the play area is a concrete rectangle it’s not a particularly inspiring or pleasant place to hang out.

      1. It was the school’s decision, everything goes through a process of risk assessment these days and the risk of disruption and ill feeling if anything does happen is sometimes too great for teachers who are stressed about many other things to take on as well. Some of the kids have broken bones even when being supervised by their parents (often by trying to hurl themselves onto the monkey bars, not a good idea.) So yes I guess it is worth finding out what the school’s policy on equipment would be if there were any.
        If you had been able to be a school governor I would have gone on to tell you about the playground markings for games we had put on our playground a few years ago – it was part of the School Development Plan so that children could be working with numbers even while they played. Because we saw it as educational, our governing body was happy to shell out (£3,000 I think it was!!) and now that they are fading, making sure that we have another set put on is on the plan again.

  5. We have some brilliant school playgrounds in East Lothian, or there were when I was teaching. Polytunnel areas made of old plastic juice bottles, so warm and low, low cost, areas were children could plant things, old logs used as seats where kids could take/ read etc. Little paths with road marks, so dual use Some totally fab ideas so that they became real PLAY grounds, and mostly low/ no cost. It was great to go in and teach the kids as we could do sessions on mini beasts, co-operative games. We even used open canoes with the younger ones, made shields, oars etc and rigged sails to make a Viking boat and they hauled it, full of ‘Vikings’, with ropes on rollers. It’s a while since I was teaching but I’m sure things will have gone forward since then. Some schools had wee waterproofs made for the kids, kept at school, so they were out whatever the weather. North Berwick Nursery School has there own pupil Eco committee! Look it up. So it takes imagination, will power and a willingness to succeed, not necessarily much money. Oh dear better stop there. I thought these sorts of playground had disappeared by now. Best of luck with the projects, just get folk motivated, young & old, and go, go go.

    1. It sounds like there are lots of schools in Scotland that have proper, fun playgrounds. I’m not sure why this one has such a backwards view on it.

  6. I remember coming from Dunedin where we had a great adventure playground at George St Normal, to Park House School in Wimbledon Park where there was no definable play area as such- They even banned elastics or French skipping! At our kids school in NZ, ours are allowed to now take their scooters, bikes, roller blades and the like to use at play times in a definite area- they even have unicycles for the seniors to use and one of those old style trolleys kids can either get behind and push from the back or pull by a rope from the top- Bulrush was brought back in more of a supervised way- and our kids can take balls etc from the shed to play with at lunchtimes- the seniors take it in turns to be monitors who issue the balls etc. It keeps kids moving and encourages them to play as a team sometimes. The best playgrounds are ones that have the ultimate users in mind and who better than to determine what they like? The kids themselves! They might remember a cool place they went to because of a particular play structure- I saw this really cool one as it was like a pirate ship with Ropes the kids (and parents) could climb up and get down safely. It was at a place called Kai Iwi- The best playgrounds have an element of risk to them, otherwise they don’t offer a challenge for the users!

    1. It’s great that the kids can ride bikes and scooters and things at school. That’s fantastic. I think they have a slightly extreme view of risk here which is having a negative impact on children by reducing outdoor play opportunities.

  7. What a world we live in. All the best to you et al with your playground plans Rachel and good for you. I can’t understand all this risk assessment stuff these days. Makes you wonder how any of us of a certain generation survived at all…but that probably makes me sound so old fashioned… :/

    1. Thanks. I wanted to give up on on the whole thing over the weekend as I was feeling quite down about it. But now I’m refreshed and ready to keep trying but will try a different strategy.

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