Lunchtime….the least considered part of the school day!

Lunchtime….the least considered part of the school day!


Interesting debate on MUMSNET recently about play restrictions at lunchtime. Unfortunately there is truth in most of the comments, particularly the predominance of football, which banishes girls to the playground periphery and also the sad demise of many a playground game.  Of course health and safety issues need to be addressed but nothing is solved by an outright ban of children’s play.

There is a growing amount of research evidencing the decline in play.  A 2 year study by Natural England (2016) found that 10% of children (in England) had not set foot in any form of natural environment (park, forest, beach etc.) for at least 12 months.

Persil’s Project Dirt (2016) carried out a global survey of over 12,000 families, with children aged between 5 and 16. They discovered that third of UK children played outside for less than half hour each day whilst a fifth, on average, didn’t play outside at all – less time outside than afforded to people in prison!

This makes lunchtime a crucial part of the school day yet it is probably one of the least considered. More thought needs to be given as to how lunchtime can be used to provide children with freedom of choice and promote play, physical exercise and positive social interactions whilst enabling them to learn about and mitigate the risks themselves, with support from adults.

It all comes back to good early years practice – observation, assessment and planning!  Monitor lunchtimes, what are the accident and incident records showing you?  Carry out a play audit as this will inform you as to what games children are playing and where. Identify any issues that need addressing then plan how provision can be enhanced to provide opportunities for different play types.

When I was a Deputy, at a large primary academy,  we had many behavioural issues and accidents at lunchtime. I introduced a Play Pod and the lunchtime staff received risk/benefit analysis training.  It transformed lunchtimes – engagement rose, behavioural issues and accidents fell, follow ups after lunch were rare and boys and girls began to play together, rather than apart.

Need some ideas? Think about zoning areas so that there is a range of resources available in different areas.  Provide children with chalk so that they can create their own games or artwork – it washes off in the rain, or you can provide paint pots and water and they will do the job for you!

Fed up with kids doing the Floss? Set up an area for music and dancing – a old CD player will do – you will be surprised by how many boys will love this!  Provide some loose materials. They are relatively easy to access and very cost effective if there is little in the budget for an actual Play Pod.

Knee jerk reactions to accidents help no one and just further limit play.   Take time, think things through, look at the benefits of the activity then think about how risks can be mitigated. I can promise you that children will come in from lunch feeling great, enthused and ready to learn.

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