4 Ways you can immediately make lunchtimes better (Part 4 of 4)

Posted by Paul Aagaard · 3 min read · 10 comments

This fourth and final blog, in my 4-part series, focuses on how to create an inclusive and nurturing playground that meets the individual play needs of each child.


Schools can be very risk averse which prevents children from doing what they want to do. Children love to run, jump, climb and dig. If they aren’t allowed to because a risk assessment says they can’t, they end up frustrated, get bored and fall out with each other. This creates a very negative behaviour culture in the playground where Supervisors are constantly telling children to get off the grass or not run when it’s wet. In so many schools football dominates the playground mainly because there isn’t anything else to do. Play equipment usually includes balls, skipping ropes and a few Hula Hoops. There is often nothing else to stimulate our children’s imagination. Most children end up wandering around not doing much at all. As a result, footballs fly all over the place and children play where they aren’t supposed to so Supervisors spend most of their time policing the playground. Other children get hit by footballs which upsets them and makes the environment quite hostile and scary particularly for the younger children. The following best practice principles developed by a company called OPAL-Outdoor Play and Learning will help create a nurturing an inclusive play environment.

Risky play

Schools need to adopt a risk benefit approach to play. The Health & Safety Executive guidance says “when planning and providing play opportunities, the goal is not to eliminate risk, but to weigh up the risks and benefits. No child will learn about risk if they are wrapped in cotton wool”.

As Roald Dahl said, “the more risks you allow your children to make the better they learn to look after themselves”. Risky play involves trusting children to, for example, build stable structures using wooden pallets and ropes and inviting them to make tree swings. As a result, children self-regulate their behaviour and start to learn about risk-taking which is impossible if they are never exposed to risk.

Loose parts

Monkey bars, climbing walls and trim trails can be engaging for a while but they inevitably lose their allure with time and familiarity. What really engages and excites children and keeps them all happy is the provision of loose parts (scrap materials). This includes items for building dens (old doors, tarpaulins, etc.) old plastic chairs from the classroom with their metal legs removed, car tyres, cardboard boxes and hard suitcases with wheels. All this scrap material is more engaging, entertains for longer and is much cheaper than most expensive manufactured equipment.

Play policy

To help parents understand and appreciate the benefits of risky play, schools should write a play policy. This isn’t mandatory like, for example, a behaviour policy but it’s a great way of avoiding parental complaints about minor injuries which the HSE say don’t need to be documented or reported unless they are very serious.


We worked with Hermitage school who introduced loose parts into the playground - boxes, crates and pots and pans - and ran a positive risk-taking programme which gave children the chance to make their own tree swing. This helped create a much more child initiated play environment. “It’s trying to develop their engagement in the outside area rather than us as adults saying here’s a lovely hopscotch, now you play hopscotch on it” said Elaine D’Souza, Headteacher. Here are more details about how we helped Hermitage School improve their lunchtime provision.

If your school is facing some of these very common playground problems, please get in touch with us at Recipe for Change or OPAL who we work in partnership with. Our lunchtime Improvement programme includes positive behaviour training for Midday Supervisors to help them de-escalate incidents. It makes sure the behaviour policy is consistently implemented at lunchtime and ensures children are respectful to Midday Supervisors. Based on the training, we write action plans to improve provision in both the dining room and playground, run whole school consultations and help introduce all the agreed changes that’ll make lunchtimes much better.

For more information, please email info@recipeforchange.co.uk

Paul Aagaard

Paul is a social entrepreneur who is passionate about improving safety and behaviour in schools by transforming lunchtimes. Working in partnership with caterers and local authorities to develop lunchtime improvement programmes, he helps schools ensure that children want to eat better, eat together, engage in good conversation and be more active.

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