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  • Jarrow Cross C of E Primary School
‘Value in Everyone’
Value in Everyone

OPAL - Outdoor Play and Learning




Home School Life OPAL (Outdoor Play and Learning) 

What is special about an OPAL Playtime? Come see...

Pictures of the Week

What do our children think so far?


'I was learning to skip with my sister Keira' - Maya


'I've been putting the costumes on.  I was a piggy!' - Jacob


'In the music area, I get the whistle and blow it.  Jackson also plays there too!'  - Wade


'I have been skipping with Summer' - Gracie


'I love playing dressy up with Kendall' - Miya


'I made a potion in the mud kitchen' - Mannat


'I have loved making houses out of the sticks' - Emily

What is OPAL?

We have recently started a programme 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 testing and development in over 250 schools and is now used in Canada and New Zealand as well as across the UK.

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 as 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 needs met out of school.

Average screen time per day 5 hours

Average outdoor play time per week 5 hours

Percentage of UK children who only play outdoors 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 fundamental skills, balancing and travelling on the playground

fitness – expending more energy and effort as they explore and engage in active play

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, when playing in the ‘mud café’, children write and draw menus, set prices, take orders, and create the ‘food’.  Play provides rich learning opportunities and leads to children’s success and self-esteem.


How can parents help?

Don't throw it away! 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 health and in line with all current good practice advice on health and safety, well-being and development.


How does it work at Jarrow Cross?

All children in the school (from Reception to Year 6) have the freedom to play where they choose within the school grounds (outside)

A variety of zones, stations, equipment, activities and areas will be available to the children and these may vary each day depending on what the children choose to do!

Equipment and Zones could include (but are not limited to):

Tyres and planks

Mud Cafe and kitchen

Small world (e.g. dinosaurs, cars, fantasy world)

Mini-beast / plant exploring

Scooters, skateboards, bikes and other means of transport/travel

Hoops, balls, skipping ropes

Sports zone (e.g. football; bench-ball; netball; cricket) including those run by Sports Leaders from Years 5 and 6

Sand-play / sandpit

Big chalks and bubbles

Crates, containers and cardboard boxes (e.g. for den building or whatever the children choose to do)

Tree climbing or puddle jumping

Performing (e.g. music, drama, dressing up)


Who supervises?

Each part of the playground is supervised by Play Leaders so no child is ever out of sight or sound

‘Rangers’ are based at strategic points to ensure support for play leaders and the safety of the children.

Children are asked to be responsible for the equipment and tidying it away at the end of the session.

Children are allowed to roam and so wellies and old outdoor coats are recommended (they then change into their indoor shoes when coming back to class).

The OPAL Play Team (which includes Governors, Senior Leaders, Staff and Parents) regularly reviews the OPAL project to make sure it continues to be effective, safe and exciting for all children.