26 October 2012
It's amazing the number of meetings I have had with colleagues, both in the play and in the natural environment sectors, where we brief each other on what our organisations are up to and what our plans are for the future and then we get to the common theme of 'of course most of our work is in primary schools or early years settings...but we're keen to develop our secondary offer...'.
We have projects in secondary schools and we have plenty of experience with older pupils, as have many of our wonderful sector partners, but somehow there seems to be a view that older children just don't play as much and will be less interested in their external spaces. Or maybe secondary schools are just too busy to be easy to engage.
It's true that maybe older children don't play in the same way but they do indeed play. It may be that the concept of being outdoors is 'boring' and 'cold' but they can gain from school grounds and other outdoor activities as much as younger children if we can just meet their different needs.
Older children are more likely to need smaller group seating spaces for the sharing of conversations and plans, they are less likely to want to run up and down logs and jump off the other end. They are more likely to enjoy activities that begin to help them think about their career paths, they are less likely to be willing to play in a sand pit (although I reckon there is a good chance that they would want to - it just doesn't seem cool!).
Secondary schools do of course have many pressing issues to contend with, demands are high and the time available to develop school grounds or encourage these older children to relax and 'play' a little more is limited.
So do they really play? Are we actually saying that there is as great a demand for older children to enter imaginary worlds, to pretend to do things they could not do in the real world, to test boundaries and explore new concepts as there is for younger children going through their early developmental stages?
I think if we look at the take up of XBox and other computer based gaming products by older children we can definitely say that the demand is there.
What will it take to transfer that unhealthy, indoor, sedentary, isolating activity to a natural outdoor space?
I popped out to our local adventure playground the other evening, it is a pretty usual location - in an urban setting and near to many residential communities. It is heavily used by younger children and their families during the day. Towards the evening however small groups of be-hooded and be-blinged teenagers begin to drift in sideways if they are allowed. Pretending they only found themselves there by accident they suck up the hot drinks given to them by the play workers and they hang upside down off play equipment, they sit in the sand pit and clamber up the slide the wrong way. They get incredibly excited at the thought of a fire pit and scramble for the marshmallows like they were going out of fashion. They squeak and gibber as they dare each other to jump off the rope swing and they sit and gossip and chatter in the darker corners. Maybe they would benefit from some more natural spaces made available to them in their school grounds.
These children are still children but some of our secondary school grounds don't cater for that.
How should we be planning and creating our school grounds spaces to make them into places that our older children want to learn and play in?
p.s. netmums have some great ideas for outdoor games for older children: http://www.netmums.com/activities/fun-at-home/outdoor-games-for-older-kids