As the art of play disappears into PlayStation screens, many playgrounds are becoming little more than video game discussion centres, with "real" games practically a thing of the past.
Building on a clause in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that "play is an essential part of every child's life and is vital to the process of human development", Fair Play Training, a charitable organisation based at Northern College, Dundee, has developed courses and packages for schools that go back to basics and aim to "teach" guided and positive play.
At Mossgiel Primary School in Dundee, one of 23 schools to have taken up the scheme this year, P6 pupils are learning a new skill as games trainers for P2 children. The games trainer programme takes place over six one-hour sessions and aims to teach older pupils a variety of new games and, more importantly, how to explain, demonstrate and organise them for younger classes.
At the start of session 5 in the school gym, games trainer Wilson Melvin sits the group down in front of a flip chart and revises the details of play organisation:
* Check equipment (if necessary)
* Be enthusiastic
* Join in.
The children know the theory, and now need another practice session. And so the mini-teacher-training class begins.
"Here's a fun way of getting the wee ones into groups of four," Mr Melvin explains. Each child is quietly told the name of an animal. They then have to run around making appropriate noises, listening for like-sounding animal partners. After two or three minutes of zoo and farmyard squawks, groups are formed and seated.
Next, each group takes a turn to "teach" the rest of the class a new game. Each group is given a game and reminded of each member's role: one describes the game, one picks the teams and the whole group demonstrates the game.
Infants are noisy, says Mr Melvin, and the P6 pupils have to learn to make themselves heard. To practise, the new game is described from one end of the hall in a loud and clear voice, and the critical learners at the other end must put up their hands if they can't hear. While some pupils are self-conscious about raising their voices, others love the challenge and have only to be reminded to speak clearly and not to shout.
Teacher Liz Crawford has been surprised by the new-found confidence of shy children in her class. One younger pupil in a P56 composite class has found new confidence by giving instructions to the older P6 pupils.
Once the game is explained and demonstrated, and the teams picked, the organising group supervises and joins in with the "infant" players.
The games are usually simple, quite physical and frequently noisy. There is Poison, a kind of suspense-based tig in which one person plays the part of a bottle and all the other children reach out to touch the bottle's outstretched hands. The children ask: "What's in the bottle when the cork goes pop?" and when the answer comes "Poison", they scatter, chased by the bottle. The first one caught then takes his or her turn in the middle. There's great hilarity when lines get confused. "What's in the poison when the bottle goes POP?" The Fifties favourite "Grandma" becomes "Pigeon Steps", with children creeping up behind "Big Doo" and freezing when he turns round. "Lion, Lion", another old familiar, is great fun. Lion faces the wall, throws a bean bag over his or her shoulder. The one who catches it hides it. Lion turns, tries to guess who has the bean bag by getting each member of the group to perform an inventive forfeit - hopping while singing, walking like a chicken, performing sit-ups.
In a final evaluation session, Wilson Melvin encourages the children to focus on the positive - this week's session has been "even better" than the previous week's. Being more critical, pupils suggest that some trainers will have to speak more clearly "once we get out into the playground with the wee ones". In a final Play Day session pupils have the chance to practise their games trainer skills in half-hour sessions with P2 pupils. "The kids love it," says Wilson Melvin. "We've never yet had a failed Play Day."
Headteacher Karen Payne enthuses about the games training programme. "So many behaviour problems have their roots in playground activities. The games trainers are taking on a new responsibility and are often unwittingly addressing problems such as aggression."
Ms Payne says it has helped consolidate discussions in circle time. "Many children have a natural caring instinct and a real need for responsibility. Wilson is very talented and has brought this out in the pupils."
Full details of programmes, packs and prices can be obtained from Fair Play Training, Room A5657, Northern College, Gardyne Road, Dundee DD5 1NY, tel: 01382 454600
Looking for ways to accredit curriculum enrichment activities? An Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network conference on PSE, core skills, curriculum enrichment and ASDAN Awards, will be held at Jordanhill Campus, Strathclyde University, on May 14.
ASDAN is an educational charity, based at the University of the West of England in Bristol. It aims to develop the personal skills of 13-25 year olds. pound;85 plus VAT. Contact Tara Perry, ASDAN , 27 Redland Hill, Bristol BS6 6UX, tel: 0117 923 8838.