They can be heaven or just hell

14th January 2000 at 00:00
Rebecca Taylor reports on the challenges and opportunities which the school playground offers to teachers on duty.

The first few playground duties are difficult for NQTs. The responsibility should not be taken lightly and it's wise to remember that your first playground duty needs some preparation. You must find out whether you will be responsible for both duties that day, and what time you should be out there. It may be that your school expects the duty teacher to be five minutes early to receive the children.

You need to find out where the bell is stored and where the children line up - or if they stand in a corner of the playground and wait to walk into school. These are the sorts of details that seem mundane but can cause all sorts of trouble if you aren't aware of them.

What should you be doing while on duty? Your first priority is the children's safety, and it's important that you walk around observing them and ensuring that no one is getting hurt or putting themselves in danger.

And when the sick and injured come up to you, you will have to decide whether it's a matter for the medical room or if a few reassuring words will stop the tears.

Your time on duty is also an opportunity to talk with the children who do not seem to be interacting with others. It's a chance for you to observe the children in your class and find out who plays with who, and who might need a bit of help finding someone to play with. It's sad when children come in from play and say: "I have had a horrible playtime because I had no one to play with."

Children spend up to a quarter of their school day in the playground, so you will need to find out what the policy is for dealing with playground issues. One thing for certain is that problems need to be resolved quickly, as valuable lesson time must not be eaten into while you are trying to sort out problems.

The children need to feel that they have resolved the issue themselves, or you will find that the problems may escalate. It's also vital that you hear all points of view before you decide on a course of action.

There are preventive strategies: give the children the opportunity to decide for themselves what rules they would like implemented in the playground. These could be as simple as "be kind and respectful towards other children's possessions".

Copies of the rules can be displayed in the playground or in the cloakroom. In your classroom, you could have a "golden circle time", a special time set aside when you and your class sit in a circle and discuss playground issues.

Start off by saying "I am happy in the playgroud whenI" and then give an example of a happy incident. Each child should then have a turn, and make sure the children listen to each other. Then say "I am sad in the playground when..." and give an example of a sad incident. Once again, each child should then discuss a sad incident. Take one issue that has arisen, such as "I am sad when I have no friends". You should then say "Would it help if..." and propose a practical solution to the problem.

This statement should then go round the circle and each child can have the opportunity to suggest something positive that could be done to deal with the issue in question.

You are sure to be delighted by the children's suggestions, as they can range from the practical "Why don't you bring your skipping rope in?" to the heartbreakingly beautiful "You can always come and play with me whenever you are lonely".

Some people say that children do not know how to play games any more, but this is often because no one has bothered to show them how. It can be a good strategy to teach your children good old traditional playground games such as What's The Time Mr Wolf?, Ring A Ring A Roses, In And Out The Dusty Blue Bells, The Farmer's In His Den and Scarecrow Tig.

The environment itself is an important consideration when trying to tackle playground problems. If you can, persuade your head to allow you and your staff to take small steps to improve it.

It may be that your playground is nothing but a vast, barren, blasted square of Tarmac, which can easily be a breeding ground for boredom and unhappiness.

Funds may be low, but by introducing a sturdy box with some balls, ropes and bean bags, for example, the children will feel more inspired to play games with each other.

It's also important that the football area is a zoned-off area in the playground. With a few well-placed logs and tyres you can create a necessary quiet area where children can sit down and talk.

Ground markings for games such as hopscotch are common features in playgrounds, but it may be yours are rarely used. This could be because they are faded or that the children have lost interest in them or even don't know what to use them for.

Special paint designed for playground markings is expensive, but you might be able to get local businesses or parents group involved in fundraising to help pay for it.

And by involving your children in the design of their own playground markings, they will start to take much more interest in their playground and begin to look forward to going out to play.

Rebecca Taylor is a primary teacher in Poole, Dorset

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