‘The Big Shrink’ by Jenny Mosley

Most schools are now running the playground with Year Bubbles – children who go out to the playground with one or two Midday Supervisors – the same ones who were supervising their classroom eating. They go out to a specified area in the playground, where once they had access to many more areas.

So basically, playground life has shrunk. It has shrunk the ‘whoosh’ of pleasure children used to experience running out of the dining hall towards a range of playground activity areas and people they haven’t seen for some time that day. And maybe they used to gravitate to the personalities of Middays, much younger or older children or maybe even siblings.

Current lockdowns have intermittently shrunk their lives too for over a year now – and obviously have impacted on wellbeing and behaviour. All that I’m saying is obvious but needs to be addressed.

Many children have been confined at home in small spaces dominated by the use of screens. Our imaginations shrink in these conditions. Most children have worn down the energy of the adults caring for them, discovered their adults’ “crumple buttons” and learnt that if the adults are tired or pre-occupied they can get away with just about anything. They’ve learnt to choose what they want to do, ignore adults’ requests and sometimes be rude and disrespectful into the bargain. As a child it’s scary learning that adults can’t make things happen the way they want them to. Children crave boundaries that are reinforced calmly and clearly. They need clear, simple rules that all adults and children keep to so that they can trust the rules to have truth and substance.

So basically many children have had a million different lockdown experiences and we all need to look again at what we are offering them. All the systems need to be revisited and re-energised:

  • Simple Golden Rules of Behaviour need to be established.
  • Clear incentives and consequences need to be shared by teachers, TAs and Middays to create an equal community.
  • We need to create a calm eating experience with emphasis on manners.
  • Purposeful play experiences in the playground to suit the needs of different children

– need to be available.

  • A whole school approach to respectful behaviour from all adults and children.
  • Children have the right to have adults around them that have enough energy to model the behaviour and relationships that they want.


Purposeful, Pleasurable, Participative Play

Currently, a Year Group goes out to an area with the same Middays who have been in the class with them for lunch. What the children need now is expansive engagement with play.

Every child is different and their needs are different too on different days, depending on how things are at home or how the morning went. They could need …

  • Running around play.
  • Quiet, focused, creative activities.
  • Imaginative made-up play.
  • Focus on nature i.e. insect or growing things play.
  • The familiarity of traditional games and their bonding rituals.
  • Hand-eye ball play.
  • Chillout, no interaction play.
  • Competitive play.
  • The challenge of long-rope skipping, hula hoops physical play.
  • The list is endless…..

Just being released into a rectangle of ‘Nothing’, with Middays who are disillusioned and disinterested is not an option. Out in the playground lie the possibilities of great social, physical and cognitive learning……

  • About the safety of rules.
  • The joy of fun.
  • The support of good relationships.
  • The challenge of competing against yourself or others.
  • The fascination of folk art and craft.
  • The warmth of a listening relationship from an adult.
  • The challenge of games.

These are all pleasures of unstructured time ahead of you which only your choices can make happen.


So, What Can We Do To Help?

Even if you have a small area, and only one or two Midday Supervisors, it is perfectly possible to offer 2, 3 or 4 rotating activities. If possible, the children need to take responsibility for setting up the Zones. So, you could have four Zones, one inPlayground Zoning each corner and they could put down some sports markers to mark off the area. You could place the Zone sign on a small easel or in a flowerpot in the designated area. The Zone managers i.e. the children, need to be given all the resource cards and games booklets that apply to the area that they are managing.

Playgrounds always seem to work best when there is one Midday Supervisor on Play Duty and one on Patrol Duty. They can rotate daily. If you are a Midday on Play Duty then you need to be the one to use the long skipping rope or start or join in a traditional game or be an independent referee for the Four Square game or football. The Patrol person, with a high-vis jacket on, walks around to see that all the children are happy. Spotting good behaviour and giving out Golden Raffle tickets for the weekly targeted Playground Rule would be your job.

Please note: A Senior Manager or a full-time teacher or TA needs to interview and train Zone Managers just the same as you do the Dining Hall Helpers. So, they need weekly meetings for 5 or 10 minutes to be thanked or to bring up problems. And they need to be on a rota system. The Midday needs to know who is on the rota so the patrol person can check.

We have Zones for a wide range of activities. What Zones you choose for each Year Bubble Area would depend upon the age of the children, what’s in that area and how big it is.

Different schools will have different stances at different times on ball games and other activities where equipment is touched and passed around – but I am writing this safe in the knowledge that the ideas will be adapted to fit with the current thinking and guidelines applicable to each school at any time.


Examples of Zones … currently we have 42 Zone Signs and more requests are coming in from schools. Here are a few examples:

Playground Zone SignsExplorer Zone; you just might have an area where there is earth, leaves and a bug hotel and use magnifying glasses and notebooks to record the insects. Always leave some old logs or bricks in the same place for children to lift and look under. Consult Forest Education organisations for further ideas.

Imagination Zone; you might have an area where you could put up a tent or drape some canvas over some trees to create a den or maybe even a mini stage – or nothing

– you could have a big box of outdoor dressing up clothes and call this ‘The Imagination Zone’.

Drawing Zone: Some children love drawing so one week it could be pavement chalk, another week pens and paper or colouring in books. Some schools even put out easels and paints and they can have a sandtimer – the Zone Manager can oversee 10-minute art slots, after which time the next children can take a turn.

Creative Zone: Making things … one week it could be playdough. Next week Cross stitch, Knitting, Origami finger game, the list is endless.

Construction Zone; Bricks, Meccano, Lego. Remind children the Zone Managers often have budgets so they are careful about stuff not going missing.

Hula Hoops; So again this can be an area hula hoop games – we have a book of hula hoop games – or it can be hula hoop challenges on different parts of the body.

Ball Games; Four square – only needs a small space and children love it. Queenie Queenie Who Has Got The Ball, Donkey, Piggy In The Middle……

Quiet Calm Zone: It may be more important than ever to have a calm zone or a place in each playground bubble where children can find a little peace and quiet and take some time out to do a calm activity.


The Craze of the Week – This is the Most Important One – every area needs an alternating craze of the week.

I am going to list a few activities and, as you read them, I want you to take a second just to remember yourself playing theseCraze of the week Zone Sign games with your friends. French Elastics, Jacks, Conkers, Marbles, Clapping, In and Out Of The Dusty Bluebells, Hopscotch…… all of these can be played if they have the right instructions and some support. They only need one set of equipment for that craze. When you put different equipment into one area you lose the joy that children find in being highly competitive with each other. This is why it was called a craze – you go mad on one thing, become as good as you can at it – and then drop it!!

When I run training courses on creating happier, more playful lunchtimes and I have real people in front of me (oh for those days!!) peoples’ eyes would light up with joy and go blurry with happy reminiscing. Why? Because at the moment of recall – you were happy – you were included, and life was pure fun.

Unless we reconnect with the child inside us, we cannot foster the play experiences children so desperately need. Play is healing. Absorbing. Helps you feel a needed member of a group.

However, I often see lonely children. Little lost souls who wander on the fringes of other’s activities. Not though in my Gold Award Schools, they will have a Friendship Stop looked after by children who are trained by a TA/Teacher as a Playground Friend/Smiley Face/Best Buddy. These are not Zone managers. Their only job is to pick children up from the Friendship Stop or try and befriend them wherever they are … maybe play a game with them, even if it is Jacks, Catch, Cards or Magic Tricks. They have been trained in these and meet once a week in a group with an adult and talk about their role and how it is going.

So, ‘C’mon Everybody, Let’s Get Out And Play … lets create a Whole School Approach to Positive Play – AND HAVE FUN TOGETHER.

To see our range of Zone Signs – do click through to the video below.

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  • And lots of ideas of games.


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