Teachers in many primary schools have long been adept at getting hold of scrap for children to play with at break times. This has become easier since the charity ScrapstoresUK set up a network of around 100 independent "scrapstores". From these, schools can obtain clean, reusable materials that businesses have been unable to recycle and which would otherwise end up in landfill.
Many scrapstores also now have "play rangers", who can be booked to organise sessions where children and teachers have fun with scrap.
However, Jeff Hill, chief executive of Children's Scrapstore in Bristol, was interested in finding a way to make scrap available directly to pupils in their playgrounds. In a conversation with two council officers, one from Bristol, the other from Bath and North East Somerset, the trio hit on an idea.
Children's Scrapstore designed the "PlayPod", essentially a huge container full of scrap, which is placed in school playgrounds. The 6m by 3m pod comes in metal or wood and has sliding doors.
Special training is then provided for teachers by Children's Scrapstore to help schools make the most of it. The idea, however, is not to incorporate it into lessons but to give pupils the freedom to play and create.
The scrap inside can range from tyres to wedding dress fabric, with a deliberately wide mix of materials including cardboard and plastic. Hill says that sticky foam discs, left over from the production of gaskets, have proved particularly popular with children.
Although some heads are concerned about the mess the PlayPods might create, Hill says, they relax once they see how responsibly the children use them.
"One head rang to say the children had used the material to build a wedding," he says. "He'd looked out and they had built an aisle and were marrying a dustbin to a chair."
Another group of children set out to build a structure that could shelter the entire school.
Children's Scrapstore visits the participating schools six times a year to stock their pods with more scrap. The charity says it is always urging businesses to donate more. "It's as if the children eat it," Hill says.
Tips from the scheme
Hill advises getting professional support. Charities such as Children's Scrapstore have staff who specialise in helping pupils get the most out of working and playing with scrap, so can pass on their expertise to teachers.
Make sure children have a variety of scrap. The more pupils you have, the more you will need for them to play with.
Scrap can have good curriculum links. But make sure the pupils see the pod as their own space, and a space for play rather than an extension of lessons.
Evidence that it works?
Heads at 23 schools that use PlayPods were interviewed about their impact. All of them said that the pods had increased creative play and reported improvements in children's self-confidence, inclusion, problem-solving and risk management. Asked if they felt the pods had improved learning generally, 90 per cent agreed.
Perhaps more impressively, the scheme has signed up 85 schools, even though the charity has to charge each school around #163;15,500 for the pods, training and materials.
Approach: "PlayPods" filled with scrap
Created by Children's Scrapstore, Bristol
For more details about PlayPods, visit
For Children's Scrapstore in Bristol, visit www.childrens scrapstore.co.uk
For more details on ScrapstoresUK, visit www.scrapstoresuk.org.