Assessing school playgrounds for play value
Play helps boost children's language development, problem solving, risk management and independent learning skills, a study reaffirms. The report, for the Children's Play Policy Forum, found play improved children's physical and mental health, as well as their emotional well-being. It also found playtime in the school playground could enhance academic skills and attitudes and behaviour.
Source: The Play Return: Areview of the wider impact of play initiatives Gill. T 2014
Whilst the notion of designing play spaces is an exciting prospect it does require knowledge, consideration and sensitivity to the environment as well as a sympathetic awareness of the users. The Play Team at Children’s Scrapstore have spent the last five years supporting schools with their play, making suggestions about logistics and grounds development. From our observations, schools that have invested in increasing children’s choices for play, seems to have profound effects on how happy children are in school which then in turn has multiple benefits for the entire school community.
Schools historically tend to develop the play space as and when monies become available which is usually in little pots now and then, which results in playgrounds that are quite piece meal and lack functionality for purpose. The missing link is a general overview of the entire space both physically and logistically in terms of staff management, which in turn creates stagnant and poor play environments, despite the best intentions.
The visual play audit service has stemmed from the acknowledgment that schools needed additional support and guidance in the planning and development of their playgrounds. The intention is to offer a non-bias service that helps schools assess the play value of their setting and support decisions in the development of their grounds; maximising on current resources and improving the quality of play opportunities and choices available.
Assessing the ‘play value’ of spaces has been developed by a small number of play theorists and practitioners within the UK over the last decade from a playwork perspective, although this has not permeated through to schools playgrounds. Two widely accepted and acclaimed frameworks are:
Play Wales' The First Claim ... a framework for playwork quality assessment publication aims to enable playworkers, and any other adults with an interest in children's play, to analyse, by observation and reflection, the play environments they operate. It gives a framework to assess the quality of what is being provided and experienced.
Simply Play is a simple, effective play value assessment which has been developed through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership between Sheffield Hallam University and Timberplay Ltd. The late Professor Perry Else course leader on the Children and Playwork Degree course wrote numerous published papers and has authored a book on “The Value of Play”. He offered supervision on this project as well as having created the assessment for play value, “Maximising Play Value” on which Simply Play was based. By developing an assessment which focuses on the quality of the play value of a space the aim has been to put the primary purpose for developing play areas back at the heart of their development, namely play.
In the initial development of the auditing service we adopted the methodologies above as our benchmark which overall worked well, but after a doing a few assessments during school lunchtimes on reflection we discovered that:
- Flow and playful journey are critically important additions we needed to add into the assessment criteria.
- Larger open spaces needed to be assessed with multi use considerations in mind including curriculum needs such as P.E. or school events.
- Schools commonly have restrictions on the ways that the play spaces can be used, such as rotas for equipment and rules for play.
- The presentation and feedback of the audit needed to be clear and concise, particularly when considering recommendations.
- The assessments seemed to work best in small team collaborations with time for group reflection which usually required a detailed mapping exercise.
After two years of development we have developed a comprehensive auditing service adapting existing assessment models that enables schools to make considered choices about the development of their school grounds.
The Visual Play Audit Service uses a range of different playground methodologies to assess the ‘play value’ of school playgrounds and other play spaces
The process involves a mapping exercise identifying what types of play are currently catered for and what the environment affords, as well as identifying what types of play or aspects of environment are missing. The A3 report outlines possible improvements that could be made to the whole environment that looks at extending the range of choices available to all the children as well as amendments to logistics that would improve the play on offer, using a combination of photographs and text.
We recognize that within the school community there are many user groups so we have worked hard in presenting this document in an easy to understand pictographic format which can be accessed by a wide range of user groups, to support any proposed changes.
“This has been incredibly useful process for us to do, we now understand how to utilise our play space much more effectively and the visual style of the report really brings it to life.” Head Teacher
The service essentially enables schools to highlight the key components of a good outdoor play environment and suggests how to enhance it, as well as offer a variety of informed, non-bias choices regarding future investments to support children’s play and learning.
“It gave me a way in to change the outdoor space and get the other stakeholders on board. By demonstrating the ideas visually through the report I was able to get money and support from the Friends of Whitehall and the School Governors.” ~ Deputy Head "This audit has really helped us to understand how to go about supporting the play in our school, enabling us to make informed choices for future developments.” ~ Head Teacher Whitehall Primary