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Fun and fitness

Howard Todd looks at games and activities that can be used during break times to encourage children to get active

Faced with recently released data about the increasing levels of obesity in young people, it's not surprising to see teachers looking more closely at ways to promote improved health through diet and exercise. The competing pressure of different subjects for curriculum time has resulted in the active use of break times becoming a focus for attention. It is, after all, in the playground where primary-age children spend one-fifth of their day.

Teachers are also aware that children involved in constructive play, when not closely supervised, are less likely to present behavioural problems. As a headteacher I recognised that incidents of anti-social behaviour became almost non-existent in the summer term when the school field could be used for formal and informal break and lunchtime activity.

Because the Health Education Authority says pupils should participate in physical activity of moderate intensity for one hour a day, and that this can be carried out continuously or intermittently, schools are challenged to use break times purposefully.

It is important to take up this challenge, because parental concerns about the lack of suitable play areas, dangers from traffic and the fear of abduction have all reduced the chance for free play beyond the school gate.

Daytime use of the school playground may provide the only safe opportunity that some children have to be active during the week.

With careful planning and management, structured breaks and lunchtimes can make a unique contribution to health and fitness, as well as expanding, by up to six hours per week, the time available to supplement aspects of the national curriculum. Not surprisingly, lead agencies concerned with health and exercise have produced a range of resources to support schools in promoting the use of their playgrounds. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is working with schools to develop ways of improving the quality of PE and school sport. Case studies of how breaks and lunchtimes are being used to enhance physical activity can be found on its website (www.qca.org.ukpess).

Government funding has been available since 2002, through the Primary Playground Programme, to develop and upgrade facilities in schools serving the most deprived areas in the country. Several of the national governing bodies of sport also provide guidance on court markings and modified forms of games that can be safely played in the school playground. All the resources included in this survey attempt to support teachers and other adults by providing a range of stimulating games to use. One or two offer a much more comprehensive package including, among other things, a rationale for active play, guidance on policy, planning, safety, selection of suitable equipment, court markings and training for supervisors. There are also lots of websites, beyond the few listed here, that merit further investigation.

* British Heart Foundation: www.bhf.org.uk

* National Playing Fields Association: www.npfa.co.uk

* Youth Sport Trust: www.youthsporttrust.org

* Health Development Agency: www.had-online.org.uk

Howard Todd is now an education consultant, having spent 21 years as a primary school headteacher and seven years as inspectoradviser for PE and primary education in Cumbria

TITLE

PRIMARY PLAYGROUND DEVELOPMENT RESOURCE PACK. Youth Sport Trust. Price: pound;99.95. Tel: 01509 226600 www.youthsporttrust.org

CONTENT

This pack includes a teacher's guide, templates, supervisor's handbook, poster of playground markings, CD-Rom, games and activity cards and a four-sport guidance pack. It provides an overarching guide to development and improvement that involves training and support for key staff and, unusual in this type of resource, guidance on monitoring the impact and change made. It also includes information from the football, cricket, tennis and rugby national governing bodies on suitable markings and modified games.

DESIGN AND VALUE

The pack comes in a canvas zip-case with 15 laminated A3 colour resource cards featuring games printed on the front and back. There are 25 A6 cards to help organise and teach the activities, and 14 A4 single-sided fitness and exercise cards. A ring-file and wallets contain a CD-Rom with plans, photos, a PowerPoint presentation and a price list of equipment, as well as a teacher's guide and templates that support auditing and planning. These are all helpful tools if schools can provide sufficient funding, time and staff to develop the project in this depth.

CURRICULUM RELEVANCE

Teachers familiar with the Top Play and Top Sport resources will know many of the games and activities on the laminated cards and in the brochure produced by the sports governing bodies. There are good links to support the PE games curriculum and the promotion of healthy exercise. Most of the "chill-out" suggestions also promote the use of language or number skills.

The variety of games illustrated will meet the needs of infant and junior classes.

PRACTICAL APPLICATION

Everything you need is here, whether you're planning from the start, upgrading your facilities or simply looking at games to play. The size of the cards makes them useful for introducing games to pupils, but it's the smaller support cards that have essential information on how to organise and modify games to suit everyone. The greater challenge of how to get pupils to regularly undertake the exercises on the cards in an informal playground setting is not addressed in the teacher support materials.

VERDICT

This is a comprehensive, well-researched resource that will provide self-help guidance no matter what level of finance a school can bring to the programme. The template cards and playground markings for sports are useful and unique to this pack. This resource is value for money, especially if you need to convince others of the importance of developing the playground and you're about to embark on a project.

TITLE

PLAYGROUND GAMES. MORE PLAYGROUND GAMES. By Rob Golding. Pearson Publishing. Price: pound;26 each. Tel: 01223 350555 www.pearsonpublishing.co.uk

CONTENT

Set 1 of these two A4-sized packs is a conventional and unclassified list of 52 games that are mostly active and require a minimum amount of equipment. There are many old favourites, such as "traffic lights", "beans" and "non-stop cricket", and other well-known games, but with less familiar names. Set 2 expands the list, and also includes indoor and parachute games, as well as skipping rhymes and clapping songs. This set includes brief instructions and words of encouragement for adults supervising playground activities.

DESIGN AND VALUE

All the cards in these packs come in an A4 plastic wallet with holes punched to fit in a ring-binder. They are printed on both sides in black and white, with the exception of the cover, which is colour. There is a simple drawing on each page, usually in the form of a cartoon, but the illustrations seldom help to explain the organisation of the activity. To ensure the pages of the pack are sufficiently robust for regular outdoor use it will be necessary to take the advice of the author and laminate them or put them in plastic wallets. Much of the content will be familiar to experienced teachers.

CURRICULUM RELEVANCE

These packs will provide opportunities for co-operation and leadership, as well as for expanding structured provision to be physically active in a less formal setting. The suggestion to use PE lessons to try out games is not well founded, unless there is a clear focus as to how the activity is being used to expand on curriculum work.

PRACTICAL APPLICATION

There are useful suggestions for items to be included in playground boxes, and the idea of encouraging pupils to act as monitors is a sensible way of teaching respect and responsibility for equipment. The narrative style used to describe how to play each game is more complex than need be and this makes some games difficult to understand. Also included are useful and unusual website contacts.

VERDICT

Use this pack as a pick 'n' mix resource if you want to expand your range of ideas and activities, but check first that what you are introducing is new and cost effective.

TITLE

POSITIVE PLAY: an activities manual and guide for positive play at break-times. Val Sabin. Price: pound;65. Tel: 01604 580974 www.valsabinpublications.com

CONTENT

This is another thick manual from Val Sabin, with lots of practical ideas and suggestions that busy teachers appreciate. In three quarters of the file there are games and activities for use indoors and outdoors, with lots of examples of problem-solving, challenges, chasing, parachute and quiet activities, as well as the normal cocktail of games using small apparatus.

Other sections provide ideas for playground markings, together with advice for midday supervisors on safe management of the informal curriculum indoors and outdoors.

DESIGN AND VALUE

The resource comes in a ring file, and is printed on card and divided into five sections. Sections two and three are printed in a separate colour and devoted to more than 200 indoor and outdoor activities. Being loose-leaf the sheets can easily be removed and permission has been given for them to be reproduced, or they can be placed in plastic wallets to make them more durable in the playground.

CURRICULUM RELEVANCE

The importance of physical, social and cognitive development through play is emphasised in the introduction. The resource recognises the uniqueness of play as a process of doing, exploring and discovering, rather than for achieving an outcome. The games support the content of the PE national curriculum and are health-related exercises, but these links are implicit rather than explicit. The content will suit a wide range of abilities and all ages in the primary school.

PRACTICAL APPLICATION

There is one game on each page of the manual, accompanied by a sketch which exemplifies the text. Suggestions for zoning the playground to include a quiet area and ideas for avoiding the dominance of football will be appreciated. Any midday supervisor understands the difficulties caused by wet lunch hours, so it's good to see a section provided specifically for this purpose. There are ideas for more than 50 indoor games, including some old favourites, as well as new individual, paired, and large-group activities.

VERDICT

The many users of Val Sabin's PE resources will appreciate this latest off-the-shelf compendium. It will add greater variety and interest to an existing repertoire of easy-to-organise games, no matter how wide your experience may be. It's not cheap, but it is very good value if you think of the time it would take to come up with the ideas and then prepare them yourself.

TITLE

ACTIVE PLAYGROUNDS: A Guide for Primary Schools British Heart Foundation. Price: free. Tel: 08450 708070 www.bhf.org.uk

CONTENT

This thin booklet emphasises the importance of a whole-school approach to physical activity. Active Playgrounds is one of seven sections in the Active School pack. As well as a clearly communicated rationale for promoting active playtimes and a useful list of contacts, it includes a series of practical steps involving the organisation of an equipment box, suggestions for playground markings that are not seen elsewhere, a variety of skipping activities and a range of traditional playground games.

DESIGN AND VALUE

The Active School pack comes in a sturdy box and is made up of a ring folder with sections on background information, policy development, and other useful details. There's a range of laminated A4 colour workcards.

Most are designed for curriculum use, but many are suitable for structured playground activity. The Active Playgrounds and Promoting Walking to School booklets complete the pack. They are stand-alone and can be downloaded from the British Heart Foundation website. The pack is available for a donation of pound;30, but it's free to schools applying for the Activemark Award.

CURRICULUM RELEVANCE

The whole programme is designed to encourage schools to offer two hours per week of physical activity within the curriculum, complemented by a wide range of additional activity outside lessons. The pack helps schools fulfil the criteria for the Activemark Award and the National Healthy Schools Standard, but to get all the information to do this, you need to read sections of the guide to the pack, rather than just the Active Playgrounds booklet.

PRACTICAL APPLICATION

The Active Playgrounds booklet is thin on practical ideas, but strong on links made to the national curriculum. To access a wider range of activities suitable for informal playground settings you will need to sift through the 60 work cards.

VERDICT

For those aiming towards the wider interpretation for promoting physical activity in and beyond the curriculum, the Active School pack is a user-friendly guide that puts help and advice at your fingertips or shows you where to get more information. If you simply want suggestions for playground games, choose one of the other resources.

TITLE

ACTIVE PLAYTIMES. By Wendy CollinDevon Curriculum Advice. Price: pound;19.95. Tel: 01363 776888 www.southgatepublishers.co.uk

CONTENT

Active Playtimes is a book of traditional and new games designed to support adults who supervise or teach children. It uses several ideas collected from schools in Devon and includes photos of playground markings created after consulting children, and practical suggestions for portable equipment. There's a short, useful section looking at the use of large fixed equipment, and important messages about safety. The skipping and "dip" chanting rhymes are fascinating, and a timely reminder about the importance of protecting local play culture.

DESIGN AND VALUE

The 58 pages include photos taken in school settings and reproductions of 50 games in monochrome. Only the central pages illustrating playground markings are in colour. There are 25 laminated A5 cards, also in colour.

Each describes a game on the front and back. Although flimsily packaged, the cards feature beautifully illustrated cartoons, and the games are given interesting names that promote the author's view of the importance of resources that stimulate children. Instructions are easy to follow. The games have catchy names and will add excitement and originality to any resource.

CURRICULUM RELEVANCE

Active Playtimes is one of the earlier books produced in recognition of the opportunities afforded outside the classroom to expand on the curriculum, increase activity levels and avoid anti-social behaviour. The cards provide a range of activities that promote health and fitness, language development and various aspects of the PE curriculum. Opportunities for the development of pupils' social skills and individual resourcefulness are given particular attention.

PRACTICAL APPLICATION

The cards are classified by colour according to whether they are tag games, group games with equipment or with little or no equipment. Each indicates the age group to which it's most suited, number of players, equipment, and type of space required. The drawings and simple text make the cards particularly easy to follow.

VERDICT

This useful collection of tried and tested approaches is worthy of a wider audience than Devon schools. The cards include several original ideas and will add excitement and enjoyment when used with other packs. The clear instructions and excellent illustrations make the cards particularly suitable for midday supervisors who are new to the role of managing more formal playground games.

TITLE

101 FUN WARM-UP AND COOL-DOWN GAMES. By John BylHuman Kinetics. Price: pound;13. Tel: 0113 255 5665 www.humankinetics.com

CONTENT

This book is intended for use in PE lessons, but many activities can be used in the playground. Part 1 provides a range of quick movement, tag, relays, races and parachute games that can be used or adapted for various abilities and ages. Part 2 contains 60 sport-specific games in seven sports (the hockey games are for playing on ice). The theme is one of fun and enjoyment through teamwork and co-operation, while maximising the time being active. There are descriptions for setting up the games, and an introduction to the theory of warm-ups, cool-downs and stretching.

DESIGN AND VALUE

The simple drawings and easy-to-read format make the games accessible, but the page numbering in the contents is confusing. All games are listed alphabetically and there's a section that identifies the number of players, level of experience and playing surface required. Each game is set out under several key headings, with suggestions for variations. The book has innovative ideas that I haven't seen elsewhere, but several games will need to be adapted for playtimes. The game-finder guide is only useful as a quick reference if you know the name of the game you're looking for.

CURRICULUM RELEVANCE

All of the games described could be usefully integrated into a curriculum programme. The value of warm-ups and cool-downs and the ways in which they support particular sports and provide opportunities for additional skill practices are well documented. Activities listed here will provide positive social interaction as well as psychomotor and cognitive learning.

PRACTICAL APPLICATION

There is at least a page for each of the 101 games listed. The information provided includes a key objective, equipment, safety instructions and the most pertinent details for introducing the game. Some descriptive titles mask familiar activities better known by other names, but there are also new easy-to-use ideas. Ignoring the ice-hockey section, you will find material to support badminton, baseball, basketball, football (American-style), soccer and volleyball.

VERDICT

101 Fun Warm-up and Cool-down Games will help teachers and playground leaders develop new and innovative activities. Be aware that the content of this book reflects the games culture of Canada and America, rather than Britain. It's only value for money if you're looking for increasing variety and have the time to adapt the material to suit the context in which you work.

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