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Playground activities go retro

A revival of traditional games is having a knock-on effect in the classroom, says Jennai Cox

Many traditional games are disappearing from our playgrounds. Among the causes are a more technically-minded generation less inclined to run about, and the dominance of football.

But growing concern over children's low activity levels and behavioural problems during what should be play time has led people to rekindle interest in hopscotch, hula-hoop and skipping.

After consulting young people in Lincolnshire, the charity Children's Links has made a resource pack of 80 games, including jacks and cat's cradle, with training for lunchtime supervisors. The county's schools are all now involved in the scheme.

The return to traditional games is, in part, driven by the Government's Public Service Agreement, which requires 85 per cent of all five to 16-year-olds to do at least two hours of PE a week by 2008. According to Jancis Walker, a PE and sport out-of-school-hours learning development manager, this has made schools think about how to engage more pupils in physical activity.

Jancis says a recent study found some of the lowest rates of participation in sports were among five to seven-year-olds. This was partly because many primary teachers were women, many of whom had disliked PE at school.

"It should be one of the highest priorities, as many of the abilities of young children depend on them being physically active," she says, citing reports about young children struggling with handwriting. "This is a fine motor skill, and children cannot develop those properly unless they have developed gross motor skills, such as jumping, hopping, skipping and running."

Like many others, Jancis hopes the 2012 Olympics will refocus minds on physical activity. She has helped run skateboarding, aerobics, fencing and circus skills in out-of-hours school clubs. Most of her work is focused in playgrounds, which is where many schools report problems with bad behaviour. Zoneparc, a playground improvement scheme developed in association with Nike and the DfES, brings greater structure to playtime activities. Up to 320 schools, mostly in underprivileged areas, now have Zoneparcs, with the playground divided into three zones: red for traditional games such as football; blue for multi-skill play such as skipping, hula-hoop and ball-games; and yellow for more sedate games or those who simply want to sit and talk.

Arnie Wray, headteacher of Trefonen Primary in Oswestry, Shropshire, is in no doubt that keeping children occupied at break improves behaviour and fitness. To engage the small percentage of his pupils who were not keen on the sports on offer at the school, Arnie introduced skipping by having the activity taught at the school. The fitness of all those who took part improved markedly, he says, and the school now holds a number of national skipping records. Pupils have even appeared on television doing their routines to music.

Updating the activity and getting involved with the children really motivates them, says Kellee McQuinn, a US dancer who toured the UK during the summer, reintroducing the hula-hoop: "Exercise has to be cool if kids are going to take part," she says.

* Children's Links Tel: 01507 528300

* Zoneparcs

* Skipping workshops

* Hoop-Hop

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