The OPAL Project

"Ladysmith Infant and Nursery School is now one of the best infant schools in the country in the quality of play opportunity it provides for every pupil, every day. The changes made are contributing to improved behaviour both during and after play times and supporting children to be more creative, cooperative, imaginative and resilient. On my awards audit visit it was clear that playtimes have become a time of infectious joy, fun, wonder and happiness. Congratulations on achieving a well-deserved GOLD OPAL award level." Michael Follett BA Hons PGCE OPAL Director

The OPAL Play Project at Ladysmith Infant and Nursery School

What’s so important about play?

“Children attend primary school for seven years. Of those seven years, around 1.4 years will be spent outside actively playing, making `playtime’ by far the most dominant element within the curriculum. Unlike sport and PE lessons, children’s active play can claim 100% engagement, provided it is delivered with the right expertise, consistency and understanding of children’s social, emotional and environmental needs” Outdoor Play and Learning: The OPAL Primary Programme.

Did you know our children spend 20% of their time at school playing?

Play is an important part of how children learn. With the right environment, resources and attitudes, play helps children to learn creativity, expand their imagination, get exercise, learn team work, try practical experiments, discover more about their bodies, find out about the planet and get along socially.

Sadly, for many reasons children’s opportunities for play during childhood have reduced over the last 20 years. 

At Ladysmith Federation we recognise the critical importance of play to children’s development and learning. We want to improve playtimes and give children more opportunities for exploration, for different types of play and for safe risk-taking. 

Play should be freely chosen, self directed and intrinsically motivated

Children know how to play. If we provide the right environment and materials for play, children will do the rest. Children are endlessly inventive.

What is the OPAL Play Project?

Ladysmith Schools Federation aims to improve the play environment for children and help them make the most of their play times. 

Thanks to funding from Ladysmith’s Children, Parents, Teachers Together (CPTT), the Infant School has embarked on the Outdoor Play and Learning (OPAL) Primary Programme. This is a mentor supported school improvement programme, which addresses all of the areas the school must plan for to strategically and sustainably improve the quality of play opportunities. OPAL has successfully worked with 100s of primary schools across Britain, helping them to improve the quality of play. For more information about OPAL’s work see their website: http://outdoorplayandlearning.org.uk/

As part of the OPAL Play Project the Infant School completed an audit of how the school currently supports play times. Our first audit placed the school at a respectable 40%. Our recent audit in May 2019 put the score up to 82%! The audit considers a whole range of issues from leadership and planning, to staffing, access and inclusion, care and maintenance of the site and the value given to different play opportunities. We now have a new action plan with the aim of gaining a platinum award over the next 18 months!

Who is involved in the Play Project?

The Play Project is led by the Infant Head Emma Brown with support from a steering group, which includes representation from teachers, teaching assistants, mealtime assistants, a governor and a parent.

All children in the school have been consulted to find out more about their views of play and play times. Their views and experiences are critical and will continue to provide input in developing play. Children on the School Council have been involved in further detailed discussions and will continue to play a role in giving feedback and ideas to help develop play.

How can parents and carers be involved?

The success of the Play Project also depends on the support or parents and carers. We have an ongoing need for new loose parts including:

o  Hats, dressing-up clothes, hand bags 

o  Large pieces of fabric, old suitcases, old pushchairs and buggies

o  Old mobile phones, cameras, keyboards 

In addition you can help by-       

  • Making sure your child has a waterproof coat and fleece and a pair of wellies to keep in school
  • Being dirt tolerant!
  • Encouraging creative play at home too