Meath School pupils playing in the playground

Changing Playtimes at Meath School

Simon Elliott, Head of Therapies at Meath School, reports on how structured play sessions have benefited pupils with speech, language and communication needs.

Play is a key vehicle for learning for all children, however, children with speech, language and communication needs may find unstructured play more challenging. For pupils at I CAN’s Meath School, playtime can mean struggling to understand rules and social conventions, convey thoughts and ideas, and navigate confusing friendships.

With this is mind, staff at Meath have trialled a reorganisation of playtime into a more structured learning environment, while ensuring play remains fun and rewarding. Staff across different disciplines (Speech and Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy, residential care and support staff) have come together to form the play development group, aiming to continually advance play for pupils.

Three daily play sessions take place at Meath: one before the school day begins (many of our children have spent a long time in a taxi before arriving), one mid-morning, and one at lunch time. The first two sessions have been split into three activities: a quiet area with activities which support occupational therapy and speech and language development, a game on the playground such as tag, and football on the field. The children choose which activity they join on a daily basis. The speech and language therapists use their friendship groups in classes to teach, model and practise the games before carrying them over to playtimes. 

At lunchtime, children can choose between the quiet area or an activity led by an outside instructor and supported by Meath staff. Activities so far have included sport, dance, yoga and judo. The sessions give the children the opportunity to try activities that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to, whilst the staff model and support with development of friendships, co-operation skills, turn taking, waiting and learning of rules. The activities also support the development of OT skills and speech and language development in a less structured environment. On top of this, active play helps our pupils’ health and wellbeing.

During a six week trial period of the new playtime scheme, there were lots of opportunities for feedback from pupils and staff as to what was working well and what could be improved. The play development group have since reviewed the feedback and implemented changes based on this and our own observations, e.g.  building in a few more free-play sessions.

The new playtime arrangements have been in place for a term at this point, and are bedding in well. Anecdotally, the vast majority of pupils and parents are strongly in favour of the changes. The play development group continues to monitor, respond to feedback and implement further change as appropriate.

The activities link into curriculum areas of PSHCE, SEAL, Literacy, Maths, Music and PE. As the scheme develops we will be looking at how it impacts on friendships, mental and emotional health, and whether a calmer playtime impacts on learning in school.

You can find out more about Meath School and its outstanding provision for children with speech, language and communication needs here.