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Thomlinson Junior School

Learning through experience and adventure

Outdoor Play and Learning (OPAL)

OPAL at Thomlinson Junior School

We have only very recently begun our OPAL journey (March 2023) and it has already had a huge, positive impact on school life!  This page of our website hopes to give you an insight into what OPAL is, why we chose to introduce it into our school and the amazing benefits we have seen since its introduction!  


In our school we aim to offer a primary curriculum that not only inspires learning but develops skills, knowledge and understanding to successfully equip children for later life.  At Thomlinson Junior School our school vision and values permeate all areas of school life and underpin all learning.  Along with striving for high academic standards, we place great emphasis on inclusion and the nurturing of well-rounded children. Our curriculum is crammed with opportunities to promote pupils’ personal development to ensure we have happy children who are ready to engage and access learning.


This extends to our play and outdoor learning. Our school believes that all children need opportunities to play that allow them to explore, manipulate, experience and affect their environment. We believe play provision should be welcoming and accessible to every child, irrespective of gender, sexual orientation, economic or social circumstances, ethnic or cultural background or origin, or individual abilities. 


The OPAL Primary Programme rationale is that “… better, more active and creative playtimes can mean happier and healthier children, and having happier, healthier, more active children usually results in a more positive attitude to learning in school, with more effective classroom lessons, less staff time spent resolving unnecessary behavioural problems, fewer playtime accidents, happier staff and a healthier attitude to life.

What is play and why is it important?

Play is defined as a process that is intrinsically motivated, directed by the child and freely chosen by the child. Play has its own value and provides its own purpose. It may or may not involve equipment or other people. 

We believe play has many benefits, including:

  • Play is critical to children’s health and wellbeing, and essential for their physical, emotional, social, spiritual and intellectual development. 
  • Play enables children to explore the physical and social environment, as well as different concepts and ideas.
  • Play enhances children’s self-esteem and their understanding of others through freely chosen social interactions, within peer groups, with individuals, and within groups of different ages, abilities, interests, genders, ethnicities and cultures.
  • Play requires ongoing communication and negotiation skills, enabling children to develop a balance between their right to act freely and their responsibilities to others.
  • Play enables children to experience a wide range of emotions and develop their ability to cope with these, including sadness and happiness, rejection and acceptance, frustration and achievement, boredom and fascination, fear and confidence.
  • Play encourages self-confidence and the ability to make choices, problem solve and to be creative.
  • Play maintains children’s openness to learning, develops their capabilities and allows them to push the boundaries of what they can achieve.

There are a variety of play types we aim to encourage such as; socio-dramatic play, physical play, sensory play, dramatic play, exploratory play to mention a few. Play benefits children in decision making, communication, imagination, learning from mistakes, resilience, confidence, happiness, sharing and overall well -being.  Our values of Respect, Responsibility, Courage and Tolerance will run throughout the play developed in school.


What do we hope to achieve through OPAL?

In relation to play our school aims to:

  • Ensure play settings provide a varied, challenging and stimulating environment.
  • Allow children to take risks and use a common-sense approach to the management of these risks and their benefits. 
  • Provide opportunities for children to develop their relationships with each other. 
  • Enable children to develop respect for their surroundings and each other. 
  • Aid children’s physical, emotional, social, spiritual and intellectual development. 
  • Provide a range of environments that will encourage children to explore and play imaginatively.
  • Provide a range of environments that will support children’s learning across the curriculum and learning about the world around them. 
  • Promote independence and teamwork within children. 
  • Build emotional and physical resilience. 

The Rights of the Child

Our school recognises the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which includes the right to play, recreation and leisure (Article 31) and the right of children to be listened to on matters important to them (Article 12). We acknowledge that we have a duty to take these rights seriously and listen to children’s views on their play.

Inclusion in Play

At Thomlinson Junior School, we aim to enable all children to achieve to their full potential. This includes children of all abilities, social and cultural backgrounds, those with disabilities, EAL speakers and SEN statement and non-statemented.  We are committed to equal opportunities in relation to play and this applies across all ages and all abilities.

Benefit and Risk

Play is great for children’s wellbeing and development. 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.
Managing Risk in Play Provision: An Implementation Guide (Play Safety Forum, 2012)


The school uses the Health and Safety Executive guidance document Children’s Play and Leisure – Promoting a Balanced Approach (September 2012) as the principal value statement informing its approach to managing risk in play. In doing so, the school will adopt a risk-benefit approach as detailed in Managing Risk in Play Provision: An Implementation Guide (Play Safety Forum, 2012).


Risk-taking is an essential feature of play provision and of all environments in which children legitimately spend time at play. Play provision aims to offer children the chance to encounter acceptable risks as part of a stimulating, challenging and managed play environment. As outlined in the play sector publication ‘Best Play’, play provision should aim to ‘manage the balance between the need to offer risk and the need to keep children and young people safe from harm’.  In addition to standard risk-benefit assessments the school will practice dynamic risk management with children, encouraging them to identify and manage risks in an environment where adults are present to support them. These documents downloaded below.