Children at a Coventry primary school have become the city’s first to try out an award-winning initiative which transforms playtime into an outdoor adventure designed to promote children’s health and wellbeing.
Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School has unveiled its Outdoor Play and Learning (OPAL) play areas to its 420 students following eight months of staff training and volunteer support from the community, with children keen to pull on their wellies and explore.
The new facilities have been made available to increase the variety of activities available during playtime and lunchtime and have a positive impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of children.
Sacred Heart, which is part of the Romero Catholic Academy, was the first school in Coventry to sign up to the initiative, and is one of only a handful so far across the West Midlands to put the scheme into action.
The new play areas include a variety of features: a water area; mud kitchen complete with pots, pans and aprons; a construction zone; sandpit; quiet spaces; and a woodland trail. The construction zone is particularly striking, with a play car, pallets and piping for children to experiment with their imagination. They were created thanks to support from staff and parents who volunteered their time, and local businesses which provided additional labour and materials.
Jason and Kofi in Year 2 said: “We love the sandpit. It’s our favourite part and there’s so much to do with your friends. You can do whatever you want.”
Alexa in Year 4 said: “It’s amazing and really fun. I’ve already been in the sandpit and making chocolate cakes in the mud kitchen, and some friends have been climbing trees in the woodland trail. There’s so much more to do and it makes lunch time so much fun.”
Twelve of the school’s play enablers and teachers were enrolled on OPAL’s mentoring programme. Since September 2021, they have received in-depth training on risk/benefit evaluation and how to facilitate and develop play literacy, ahead of overseeing play across the new facilities.
Sophie Newman from Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School spoke of the ‘incredible’ facilities. “It’s incredible to see the instant impact that our OPAL facilities have had on playtime, with children exploring with their friends and making new ones in the process, and letting their imaginations run wild in what is a crucial part of the school day,” she said.
“We’re always looking for extra donations of wellies and equipment such as push chairs, fancy dress and toys, but at the moment we’re specifically looking for donations of compost for our tyre planters.
“I’d like to say a massive thank you to everyone who has supported this project by volunteering their time and sending donations to get OPAL up and running, and to the OPAL team for helping us completely transform playtime here at Sacred Heart.”
For more information about Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School, visit https://sacredheart.coventry.sch.uk
Picture: Paul Madia, Executive Principle of Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School, with Claire Harrison OPAL Play Co-ordinator, Sophie Newman, PE and OPAL lead, and children exploring the new OPAL facilities