Now I have always loved a tricky challenge so I jumped at the opportunity to apply for the job PlayPods for Primary Schools Project Manager which seemed right up my street and a perfect move for me back in 2007.
Ten years later on and still in the same job…. I find myself sitting in an airport reflecting on the exciting times we’ve had along the way, the challenges we’ve faced as well as the legacy of loose parts play in schools the past ten years has created.
The initial action research project brief was to; Investigate the benefits of improving outdoor play environments in primary schools for the purpose of supporting children’s development, learning and play experiences. Two things bothered me about this:
Firstly how were we going to get schools in a position to sustain loose parts play on a daily basis? And what was going to make this project different to all the other playground improvements?
The project comprised of three 12 weeks phases: Firstly researching and baselining the play behaviours, then installing a PlayPod to be open at lunchtimes and then finally the removal of it and assessing the post play behaviours. An evaluation report is available detailing the results.
I needn’t have worried though.... During the research, every time we opened a PlayPod the children absolutely loved it, accidents went down significantly, lunchtime staff were significantly more playful and everyone involved couldn’t help but smile at the spectacle that the loose parts created! I will never forget the day in one school playground where we had recently removed the PlayPod a child came up to me in floods of tears, clearly quite distressed and just about managed to say……
“Someone’s Stolen our PlayPod!”
Although this was quite heart wrenching to deal with I would like to reassure the reader we that we didn’t leave a trail of unhappy children in our wake. All but one of the schools involved in the project reinstated their PlayPods once the research period was finished as they couldn’t go back to how it was before.
It wasn’t all plain sailing though back in the early days though …. The logistics of installing and removing shipping containers in and out of school playgrounds with a crane had its ups and downs as you can imagine. Indeed I can vividly remember a freezing cold day in December in 2007 where somewhere on Avonmouth Industrial Estate, dressed slightly inappropriately I had to wash three shipping containers with a colleague, inside and out using only cold water. By the end of the day, we had not even finished cleaning the outside of one container…. We were freezing cold and ever so slightly broken by the experience….. On a positive note though the colleague I was working with, ended up being my best woman at my wedding four years later!
A year into the project, I was sitting in the office one morning reflecting; everything was ticking along nicely, the research was underway and the early results indicated the loose parts was having a huge impact on the quality of the play experiences for the children in the pilot schools…. Then the phone rang. It was a head teacher I knew from a local school and he wanted to buy a PlayPod. I politely refused saying this was a research project and we weren’t in a position in any way shape or form to start selling them. He said:
“Kirsty if you don’t sell us one then we are going to it by ourselves, but it won’t be as good, so please come and help us!” Marcus John 2007
How could I refuse?? This was the moment I knew that this project was going to something else, something bigger than the proposed research and a real confidence booster for me at this point.
The results of this project and “random sale” were extraordinary and exceeded expectations in several ways, transforming the play at lunchtimes. Common observations included a huge reduction in accidents and incidents, evidence of children self-managing risks, and children working together and collaborating across ages and genders, to mention a few. The findings can be seen in this short video:
One of the pilot schools ‘Severn Beach’ were initially reluctant to the change the Scrapstore PlayPod was going to bring but the responses from the staff, children and community has been phenomenal.
“I thought it would be really hard to sell this scheme to the staff but they absolutely love it” Jackie Daffon 2007
Ten years on the lunchtime staff and children still absolutely love their PlayPod and use it every day without fail. The lunchtime staff take the scrap home to wash and dry it, they even sewed the ears and other body parts back on cuddly toys. The school has also developed the playground by building special platforms that accommodate and extend building with loose parts and in the summer holidays children have been observed in their front gardens playing with their own loose parts!
In 2009 at the end of the research, the schools were so happy with the results they couldn’t help but let other schools know about it and suddenly a lot of schools were phoning us to ask how much a PlayPod was and if they could buy one! The demand was such that a twelve month business plan was put together so that the other local schools could benefits from this too. Scrapstore PlayPods was born: A process that works with the entire school community to change both the human and physical play environments; transforming play at lunchtimes. The transition from research to service and product delivery was a gradual and tentative one, but ever since this date the loose parts still never fail to create delight and enjoyment for the children who play with them.
Although we mainly operate within the UK, we have supported and shared skills with different organisations introducing loose parts play into schools in Australia and North Carolina. In May this year we also became a key partner on an Erasmus + Knowledge Transfer Partnership piloting Scrapstore PlayPods in France and Spain.
In May this year we went to visit the Boite a Jouer aka PlayPod in Ecole Wurtz, a primary school for 250 children in Paris twice after opened.
Even though I have been opening PlayPods for the last seven years I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but on arrival to the playground, I may as well have been in the UK ….it looked like a PlayPod, sounded like a PlayPod and even smelled like PlayPod!
I felt strangely proud at this moment …. the notion of a simple idea being replicated so seamlessly in another place and context. Just watching the chaotic joy and noise that loose parts was bringing to this school was brilliant! The children loved it and even the staff loved it! Valerie the lead animateur for came up to us and said which really sealed the deal:
“We used to dread opening the Boite a Jouer but now we dread not opening it!
It was fascinating and reassuring to see how the project had so many similarities and successes to the English model. Indeed Jouer Pour Vivre have won a government contract to deliver no less than ten Boites a Jouer in Paris over the next two years!
From modest beginnings Scrapstore PlayPods has grown bigger than anyone expected and is having a major impact on children and schools across the whole of the UK and beyond! Since 2007 we have now worked with over 307 primary schools and early years settings ranging from Cornwall to the Orkney Islands, installing Scrapstore PlayPods, enabling 73,536 children access to loose parts play and quality playtime experiences. I’m not quite sure what the next few years will bring to loose parts play ….but if the last few are anything to go by its definitely going places! I board the aeroplane feeling excited…..
If you are interested in finding out more about Scrapstore PlayPods please contact Scrapstore Play Services or phone 0117 914 3002