Follow the leader is a favourite pastime

7th March 2008 at 00:00
North Lanarkshire has seen a dramatic surge in playground games, with conspicuously youthful demonstrators leading the way

It seems unremarkable at first: a grinning P1 boy is chasing a pal round the playground, while classmates whoop and stamp their feet with delight. It's the people organising the game who make this scene unusual: they are confident, unruffled, command deep respect from their young charges - and are only 10 years old.

There has been a huge rise in North Lanarkshire primary schools organising playground games. A council report in December stated that, in just two years, the figure had risen from 33 to 121, out of a total of 127.

The rise coincides with the authority's enthusiastic response to the national Active Schools programme. There are 46 Active Schools co-ordinators in North Lanarkshire, encouraging children to get involved in physical activity - but they also delegate that task to older primary pupils.

It is increasingly common for P6 and 7 "playground leaders" to take younger children for lunchtime games. At New Stevenston Primary, a P6 class recently embarked on a series of three one-hour training sessions where they each had to show their peers how to play a game.

That is followed by an application and interview process, whereby playground leaders are chosen. They will follow in the footsteps of the eight P7s who are already taking games regularly.

Lucy Devlin, 10, has been practising Kangaroo Hop with her classmates, where anyone touched by a catcher has to hop until the whole room is bounding in unison. Her classmates don't always respond appropriately - "most of them listen, except for some people that stick their tongue out at you" - but such indignities are worth it.

"I like working with little ones because they make me laugh all the time - I like laughing," she says.

But she knows that explaining things to younger children will be harder, and plans to "use smaller words" - otherwise "they mightn't understand what you're talking about".

Ross Maclean, 10, has a rapt audience of classmates standing in a circle when, with calm authority, he explains the rules of Jailer's Keys: the "jailer" chases a thief who has swiped his keys - or beanbag, in this case. Even when things don't go smoothly, it's easy to rectify: "If somebody's misbehaving, you can tell them off and everything."

He realises P1s will be more difficult, and says there's always a chance of a younger child bursting into tears at the slightest bump. But he is confident about what to do. "It's difficult to know if they're hurt. If you ask them, they might not know what you're talking about," he says. "I would go and get the teacher."

The playground games have made physical activity a reality for all children.

"It's great for special needs pupils," says headteacher Shirley Ritchie. "If they don't have structure, sometimes they can find playtime difficult. And a lunch-break can be long for young people who don't often have the opportunity to go out and play for whatever reason. Taking them out to play is about socialisation."

For older pupils, being a playground leader is a chance for quieter and less confident children to flourish.

"These are the ones who are often the most reliable," Mrs Ritchie says. "They've got some responsibility - some of them for the first time in their lives - and they take it very seriously."

"You can see them puffing their chests out and starting to grow."


Bounce Tig

When caught, the player bounces on the spot. He or she is freed when another player joins hands and they bounce together three times.

Dragons' Tails

Teams of five or six join together by holding the person in front. The back member has a scarf tucked into a pocket or waistband - the dragon's tail. The front person tries to catch other dragons' tails while protecting the team's own.


One player is the "bottle". The others touch his or her arm and shout: "What's in the bottle when the bottle goes 'pop'?" The bottle shouts: "water", "wine" or "vinegar". This continues until the bottle shouts "poison", when all players must run to a base and, if caught, become the bottle.

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