December 14

Rebalancing playground interaction

A recent GDST Junior Heads’ Conference featured a veteran educationalist, Jenny Moseley. She talked about the impact that the pandemic has had on playground behaviour. We have been fortunate in keeping academic standards consistent despite the challenges of remote learning but everyone in the room recognised the influence of lockdown on social inter-action, from difficulties in negotiation in play to senseless running and much in between. 

In the New Year, after consultation with the Junior School Council, we will be having some changes in the playground to make the best use of the excellent new additions which have been made. Zones will be introduced for different sorts of activities, some quieter, some more energetic. The older girls will be very much involved in guiding and supporting the younger girls.  

As part of the bigger plan, we have started to introduce some clapping games – a Jenny Moseley inspired strategy. There is considerable research showing the benefits of clapping in this context: it engages brain circuitry by stimulating the frontal lobes and crossing the mid-lines of the body, it improves fine motor control by prompting the right moves at the right time and it improves bilateral coordination because often two hands have two different jobs. There is also a direct link to cognitive skills. Dr Idit Sulkin found that children who naturally play hand-clapping games are better spellers, have neater handwriting, and better overall writing skills. 

The enforcement of “bubbles” and separation in lockdown prevented us having our usual Buddy Groups. This forms part of our pastoral system where every member of the Junior teaching team has a Buddy Group consisting of around two girls from each year group, starting with Reception up to Year 6 (all in the same House). Once every half term, we take 30 minutes for all the groups to meet at the same time to do an agreed activity. It is very much a big sister/little sister event with the girls making friendships across the Year Groups. Happily, the Buddy groups are back and this half term the focus will be about the older girls teaching the little ones new playground games, including clapping rhymes.  

Dr Sulkin also discovered that hand-clapping songs benefit adults too. In her study, when adults engaged in these childhood games, they reported feeling less tense and their mood improved. They also became more focused and alert. As an initially reluctant participant at the conference, I can confirm playing The Button Making Factory and A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea with twenty-four other head teachers had exactly that effect!  There was an extraordinary amount of laughter too which can only be a good and desirable thing - so when the going gets tough, google “clapping games” and connect with your inner child! 

Written by Mrs S Skevington, Head of Junior School 


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