At St Clare’s we have seen just how much of an impact improving play can make to a school. We are not just talking about playtimes being a bit less bother or about children being a bit happier. We are talking about cultural transformation.

We feel play is fundamental to the physical and mental wellbeing of children.

Our vision is that every child in school has an amazing hour of high quality play every day – with no exceptions. If one child is not enjoying playtimes, then things still need improving.

We plan for, resource and evaluate the quality of play provision as is it were an important human right, essential to all aspects of children’s development and a source of joy and happiness that every child can access because it is all of these things.

At St Clare’s we believe passionately about helping children to develop as well rounded individuals, ready and prepared for their ongoing lives to be positive members of society. Whilst the pursuit of relative excellence in academic learning is imperative we are also determined to help children grow in all areas of personal development. This project aims to provide children with infrastructure and resources to develop their imaginative and creative play through engaging and fun experiences.


What is OPAL? 

This project aims to improve opportunities for physical activity, socialisation, co-operation, coordination, resilience, creativity, imagination and enjoyment through improved play.

The OPAL (Outdoor Play and Learning) programme is the result of 17 years of testing and development in over 250 school and is now used in Canada and New Zealand as we as across the UK. Work has started to adapt the programme for schools in Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Austria. In 2018, OPAL won first prize in an EU funded award for the best active school’s programme in Europe.

It is based on the idea that as well we learning through good teaching, your children also learn when they play, and as 20% of their time in school is playtime, we want to make sure that this amount of time (equivalent to 1.4 years of primary school) is as good as possible.


Why are we following the OPAL Programme? 

One reason we are carrying out this programme is that childhood has changed and many children no longer get their play need met out of school.

  • Average screen time day = 5 hours
  • Average outdoor play time per week = 5 hours
  • Percentage of UK children who only play outdoor with other children at school = 56%

There are many proven benefits for schools which carry out the OPAL programme. They usually include: more enjoyment of school, less teaching time lost to disputes between children, less accidents and greatly improved behaviour.


The Benefits of Play 

1.Children learn through their play 

Don’t underestimate the value of play. Children learn and develop:

  • cognitive skills – like math and problem solving in a pretend grocery store
  • physical abilities – like balancing blocks and running on the playground
  • new vocabulary – like the words they need to play with toy dinosaurs
  • social skills – like playing together in a pretend car wash
  • literacy skills – like creating a menu for a pretend restaurant

2.Play is healthy 

Play helps children grow strong and healthy. It also counteracts obesity issues facing many children today.

3.Play reduces stress

Play helps your children grow emotionally. It is joyful and provides an outlet for anxiety and stress.

4.Play is more than meets the eye 

Play is simple and complex.  There are many types of play: symbolic, sociodramatic, functional, and games with rules-–to name just a few. Researchers study play’s many aspects:  how children learn through play, how outdoor play impacts children’s health, the effects of screen time on play, to the need for recess in the school day.

5.Make time for play 

As parents, you are the biggest supporters of your children’s learning. You can make sure they have as much time to play as possible during the day to promote cognitive, language, physical, social, and emotional development.

6.Play and learning go hand-in-hand 

They are not separate  activities. They are intertwined. Think about them as a science lecture with a lab. Play is the child’s lab.

7.Play outside 

Remember your own outdoor experiences of building forts, playing on the beach, sledding in the winter, or playing with other children in the neighbourhood. Make sure your children create outdoor memories too.

8.Trust your own playful instincts 

Remember as a child how play just came naturally? Give your children time for play and see all that they are capable of when given the opportunity.

9.Play is a child’s context for learning 

Children practice and reinforce their learning in multiple areas during play. It gives them a place and a time for learning that cannot be achieved through completing a worksheet. For example, in playing restaurant, children write and draw menus, set prices, take orders, and make out checks.  Play provides rich learning opportunities and leads to children’s success and self-esteem.



Play Types

There are acknowledged to be a number of different play types (around 160) which provide playworkers, managers and trainers with a common language for describing play. There are in no particular order.

Symbolic Play – play which allows control, gradual exploration and increased understanding without the risk of being out of depth eg using a piece of wood to symbolise a person or an object or a piece of string to symbolise a wedding ring.

Rough and Tumble Play – close encounter play which is less to do with fighting and more to do with touching, tickling, gauging relative strength. Discovering physical flexibility and the exhilaration of display. This type of play allows children to participate in physical contact that doesn’t involve or result in someone being hurt. This type of play can use up lots of energy.

Socio-dramatic Play – the enactment of real and potential experiences of an intense personal, social, domestic or interpersonal nature eg playing at house, going to the shops, being mothers and fathers, organising a meal or even having a row.

Social Play – play during which the rules and criteria for social engagement and interaction can be revealed, explored and amended eg any social or interactive situation which contains an expectation on all parties that they will abide by the rules or protocols ie games, conversations, making something together.

Creative Play – play which allows a new response, the transformation of information, awareness of new connections, with an element of surprise. Allows children to design, explore, try out new ideas and use their imagination. They can use lots of different tools, props, equipment. It can have a beginning and an end, texture and smell eg enjoying creation with a range of materials and tools for its own sake. Self expression through any medium, making things, changing things.

Communication Play – play using words, nuances or gestures e.g. mime / charades, jokes, play acting, mickey taking, singing, whispering, pointing, debate, street slang, poetry, text messages, talking on mobiles / emails/ internet, skipping games, group and ball games.

Dramatic Play – play which dramatises events in which the child is not a direct participator eg presentation of a TV show, an event on the street, a religious or festive event, even a funeral.

Locomotor Play – movement in any or every direction for its own sake eg chase, tag, hide and seek, tree climbing.

Deep Play – play which allows the child to encounter risky or even potentially life threatening experiences, to develop survival skills and conquer fear eg light fires with matches, make weapons, conquer fear such as heights, snakes, and creepy crawlies. Some find strength they never knew they had to climb obstacles, lift large objects etc eg leaping onto an aerial runway, riding a bike on a parapet, balancing on a high beam, roller skating, assault course, high jump.

Exploratory Play – play to access factual information consisting of manipulative behaviours such as handling, throwing, banging or mouthing objects eg engaging with an object or area and, either by manipulation or movement, assessing its properties, possibilities and content, such as stacking bricks.

Fantasy Play –This is the make believe world of children. This type of play is where the child’s imagination gets to run wild. Play, which rearranges the world in the child’s way, a way that is unlikely to occur eg playing at being a pilot flying around the world, pretend to be various characters/people, be where ever they want to be, drive a car, become be six feet nothing tall or as tiny as they want to be the list is endless as is a child’s imagination.

Imaginative Play – play where the conventional rules, which govern the physical world, do not apply eg imagining you are or pretending to be a tree or ship, or patting a dog which isn’t there.

Mastery Play – control of the physical and affective ingredients of the environments eg digging holes, changing the course of streams, constructing shelters, building fires.

Object Play – play which uses infinite and interesting sequences of hand-eye manipulations and movements eg examination and novel use of any object eg cloth, paintbrush, cup.

Role Play – play exploring ways of being, although not normally of an intense personal, social, domestic or interpersonal nature eg brushing with a broom, dialling with a telephone, driving a car.

Recapitulative Play – play that allows the child to explore ancestry, history, rituals, stories, rhymes, fire and darkness. Enables children to access play of earlier human evolutionary stages.


Meet our Play Leaders 

Children spend a lot of their time during lunchtimes and playtimes playing together. We have many pupil voice groups that support play and sport during these times. Our Sports Crew were the first out of 37 schools to win Sports Leaders of the Year across our trust. We also have playleaders, gardeners and Headstarters that also keep busy at lunchtimes.

Our Y5 and Y6 playground friends are very important. They are here to help playtime’s run smoothly. They listen to younger children and help with any problems they might have. They are trained to help younger children play and are very good at giving ideas for games. Our playground friends are always looking out for others.


How can you help? 

Play is not messing about. It is the process evolution has come up with to enable children to learn all of the things that cannot be taught, while also feeling like it is fun. There are certain things children must have in order to be able to play. These include:

– Having clothes that you can play in
– Having things to play with
– Having a certain amount of freedom

As the school improves play opportunities for your children, you may find the school is asking you for resources and is making changes about how the children use the school grounds. They may use more of the grounds, for more of the year. Your children may get a bit messier, be exposed to more challenges and have greater freedoms to play where, with whom and how they like. The experiences the school is fostering are essential for children’s physical and mental well-being and healthy and in line with all current good practice advice on health safety, well-being and development.


Look what we have got up to already



Useful Information/Documents

OPAL Play Policy

OPAL information

Power of Playtime Booklet

Play Charter

Best Play Booklet 


Autumn Bingo Cards: