Green Ridge Primary Academy – Creating the ‘WOW’ Factor One Year On

We were delighted to revisit this play area one year after we completed the project.

This showcases not only the great work we do but also the fact that our play areas stand the test of time!

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The project at Green Ridge Primary Academy, Aylesbury, involved creating several new EYFS areas.

The new play areas have injected a new lease of life into the Academy’s outside space and will entertain and motivate the children for many years to come!

As you can see from the play area in the photos, it is designed for children just starting their first stages of education; these years are crucial for cognitive learning and development of their social skills.

Bringing children to play and learn together in this way is central to everything we create.

Speaking to the staff at Green Ridge they have expressed their joy towards the project stating they are ‘over the moon’ with the results and the way in which the children have used the pace over the last year.

As a company, we pride ourselves in the work we do and the impact, not only for the children, but also for the staff who are able to teach more engaged and healthier young people.

We take our duty of care to our customers very seriously and we very much believe the customer service we provide is as important as any of the work we do  - before, during and after.

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The Magic of MUGAs – Why All Schools Need a Multi-Use Games Area

In an era when educational leaders are looking for ever more creative ways to solve complex problems, one of the most popular and innovative solutions has been the Multi-Use Games Area (MUGA). The MUGA has proven itself to be useful in a wide range of educational settings, from primary schools to colleges, and has become the option of choice for those who want to offer students a broader range of sport, exercise and excitement.

An overview of a MUGA

Space-saving and money-saving, a MUGA pitch is essentially an outdoor space carefully designed to incorporate a number of different sports and games activities. Its installation means schools can offer a wider repertoire of physical activities and, through this, encourage more children to take part.

The beauty of the MUGA is that there are lots of design options available. This means schools can create a MUGA that meets their development plans and which offers activities that their pupils will relish participating in.

Increased enjoyment is a decisive factor in choosing a MUGA. As children have fun taking part in the new forms of exercise, it will help them with both physical and mental wellbeing. Indeed, the positive feelings they experience can help them develop a better attitude towards staying healthy and lead them to adopt increasingly active lifestyles.

There is a range of MUGA sports pitches available, with different surfaces, including artificial grass,  and a variety of pitch markings, such as football, hockey, netball, tennis, basketball and cricket.  There are also other features you can include, such as goal posts, basketball/netball nets, ball walls and wall targets. What’s more, the pitches can be sized to fit the space you have available, letting you maximise the use of your existing outdoor area.

The educational advantages of a MUGA

MUGA facilities provide schools and colleges with a range of useful benefits. One of the most important is the ability to develop a wider PE curriculum, something the government’s new School Sports and Activity Action Plan (July 2019) seeks to do as it aims to put sport back at the heart of children’s daily physical activity. By fitting out a single space with multiple pitch markings, schools are able to deliver a wider variety of sports for pupils to take part in. This flexibility is ideal for schools with small outdoor spaces that are currently only able to offer limited provision, though even those with extended grounds have discovered the benefits of having multiple MUGAs.

Children can also use MUGAs to play on during break and lunchtimes. This provides all students with the opportunity to participate in enjoyable, physical activity every day of the week and, in doing so, increases the time they can be active far beyond that which is allocated in the timetable. Furthermore, the allure of playing on a properly marked out pitch increases the likelihood of them wanting to get involved. This is especially so when the pupils have been consulted about the types of sport and games they would like to play before the MUGA was designed. Indeed, by installing preferred markings, you help reduce playground boredom and this can have a positive impact on behaviour, both during breaks and back in the classroom.

MUGAs also enable schools to offer a wider choice of extracurricular sporting activities, giving some pupils the ability to develop skills to a higher level or take part in sports they really enjoy. They make it easier to bring in expert, third-party sports providers to deliver after school workshops and also enable the school to play in a variety of inter-school leagues and competitions and do so at your home ground instead of having to play away matches all the time.

Other benefits of MUGAs

Beyond the educational benefits discussed above, MUGAs also provide various other advantages. Financially, MUGAs deliver the most cost-effective way to utilise outdoor space as a single area can be used for a range of different sports. This cuts down on the amount of maintenance required to keep multiple sports pitches in good condition and frees up additional space for other uses, such as for track and field sports, outdoor classrooms, nature areas or the installation of climbing equipment.

Additionally, MUGAs are excellent facilities to let out to sports clubs for evening and weekend training and matches. As these tend to be long term lettings, they can help generate significant income over the academic year which, with today’s tight budgetary constraints, most schools would welcome. Such income could be fed back into the PE curriculum to provide new sports resources, such as an outdoor gym or even an additional MUGA.

Conclusion

MUGAs really are an innovation in the use of space. They expand the number of sports children can participate in and, through that increased participation, help the pupils live healthier lifestyles. At the same time, they enable the school to develop a broader curriculum, improve break and after school activities and provide an additional way to generate income – and all this can be done in one single, easy to maintain space.

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How to Improve Social Interaction in the Playground

Finding ways to help children interact more leads to numerous benefits for both the individual child and the school community as a whole. This can be challenging to do in a classroom setting when the time is structured around the curriculum and much of the social interaction is manufactured to meet the aims of the lesson. Truer interactions take place when the children have the freedom to be themselves and, in schools, this most often happens at break times. Here, we’ll look at a number of outdoor activities that can enhance social interaction and help develop social skills.

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Team sports

Team sports give children lots of opportunities to interact with each other. These include picking the teams, deciding on the positions and choosing which side is the first to start. Each of these activities requires children to negotiate, take on roles and accept the choices of the wider group. When the game starts, interaction continues through the discussion of in-match tactics as well as by giving encouragement to teammates and in the celebration of goals.

One of the important features of team sports is that there are a set of rules which need to be followed. Children taking part quickly become aware of what is not allowed and what constitutes a foul. As these rules are needed for the game to progress smoothly, children develop a social awareness of the need to abide by them.

Sports can also help children with conflict resolution. Minor disputes can arise during a game – was the player really off-side? Who is going to take the penalty? Learning these skills in game situations when there are a fixed set of rules can improve a child’s ability to handle conflict in settings where right and wrong are much more open to question.

Team sports can be exceptionally beneficial for social interaction in the playground and the introduction of a MUGA, that provides a wider range of sports, can be one of the best ways to inspire more pupils to take part.

Roleplay

Young children love role play and when provided with the right equipment, it comes naturally to them. It also plays a pivotal role in child development, helping to bring on many of the skills needed to be proficient at social interaction, such as confidence, communication and problem-solving.

By taking on the role of another person, be that a made-up character, someone from fiction or even someone they know, children act out scenarios that are a practice for the real world and which help them to understand and navigate society better. These made-up situations help them develop important social skills, too: listening, responding, turn-taking, initiating conversation, asking questions. In addition, they become more socially aware, developing empathy, understanding when they’ve upset someone and learning how to resolve problems.

There are many ways to motivate pupils to participate in roleplay. A good way to start is to provide them with plenty of props and costumes. There are, however, some excellent pieces of playground equipment that create the settings that unleash their creativity to a greater extent and transport them to imaginary worlds. From shop kiosks to wigwams, steam trains to castle-themed climbing towers, there is a lot of imaginative play equipment to choose from.

Outdoor games

Outdoor games help smaller groups of children develop interpersonal skills, foster better relationships and build friendships. All of these can have an impact both in school and in the community as a whole. The simple act of playing together, whether in a pair or friendship group, improves personal communication and forges bonds between people as they take part in fun activities.

The range of outdoor games available for school playgrounds is wider than ever. Besides the traditional playground markings for games like hopscotch, there are also outdoor versions of popular table games like chess, Ludo, snakes and ladders and Connect 4. You can even get outdoor table football, table tennis and puzzle tables.

Performing

Performing provides many of the same opportunities for social interaction as both team sports and roleplay. Those taking part in a made-up drama will develop skills in improvisation and communication. And as social interaction is the basis for most drama, the opportunity to progress in this area is obvious. Providing an outdoor stage in the playground is the simplest way to get children to start improvising and performing in front of their peers is a fantastic confidence booster.

That same stage can also be used to create dance routines, an activity that relies on social interaction in order to decide the moves and work together as a unified team. Similar skills can be learned from working together as a music ensemble, using outdoor percussion instruments, to create beats and rhythms and perform them in time for their peers.

Summing Up

Social interaction is an essential skill, helping children to be confident enough to communicate with others and do so in a way that helps them achieve and which enables the school community to get along more harmoniously. Hopefully, the ideas and equipment mentioned here will help you extend the opportunities for social interaction at your school.

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The movement movement; it’s child’s play!

There is a movement happening around children’s development that has caught my eye recently and bodes well for future generations. We seem to becoming more aware of the developmental movement needs of children in the early stages of their development- some may say that this is just one of those cycles that comes round time and time again. I believe that sentiment to a certain extent but this time I think that it’s different; this particular movement movement seems deeper and more wide-ranging. From many examples, I will highlight two contexts that have contributed to me thinking this way in which I have had the pleasure of working in recently.

I have commented before on the benefits of a new UK Coaching framework that has children’s participation as one of four key pillars and that this has demanded that National Governing Bodies of sport think carefully about the differentiated provision for this specific audience within their ranks. I have recently completed the authoring (along with Bob Muir from Leeds Metropolitan University) of the newly introduced Level 1 coaching award (Becoming CAYPABLE) for the Rugby Football League (RFL) aimed specifically now at children’s coaches. The RFL made an expressed commitment to providing more movement-based opportunities to provide the foundation for subsequent participation and performance within rugby (http://www.therfl.co.uk/news/article/rfl-launch-new-level-1) . There has been a sacrifice here; there is perhaps not the same direct coverage of the core skills of rugby, but the RFL believe that this developmentally appropriate approach is right for their young players.

The new National Curriculum is beginning to take shape and I have recently been involved in a number of working groups that have been tasked to respond to the consultation papers that have been published in relation to Physical Education. An understandable starting point for groups to begin their reflections has been at Early Years and Key Stage 1 of a child’s education. Once again, there seems to be a consensus that developmentally appropriate movement experiences are paramount and form the foundation for lifelong participation in physical activity. Whereas the RFL have had issues of tradition and culture to address I have always felt that the subject area of Physical Education has been blighted by an over-reliance on activity areas, such as athletics, dance, gymnastics and particularly games, as the main delivery vehicle for the concepts that we feel are important to develop in children. The problem is now that the use of activity areas is so prominent that the wider developmental concepts, such as movement, have become relegated to an inferior position to the extent that the tail is wagging the dog! However, there does seem to be an acceptance that movement development and child-centred, rather than activity-centred, learning is more appropriate, particularly within the early, formative stages of a child’s development.

These two examples are both heartwarming and encouraging to me as a practitioner who is constantly searching for more inclusive and engaging forms of developmentally appropriate physical activity for children and young people. Of course, at the core of these new directions is the child’s right and need to play and what could be more simple and meaningful than that.

Dr David Morley is Head of Education at ESP, a consultant for a range of national organisations and NGBs of sport, and holds Visiting Fellow positions at both Northumbria and Leeds Metropolitan Universities.

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