Some playground game ideas

Written by: Jenny Mosley | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Helping children to engage with playground games has clear benefits for their enjoyment of school life and their education, says Jenny Mosley. She offers some ideas and advice

For some children, playtime can be a huge problem and can have a significant impact on their learning. A stressful lunchtime for a child can greatly affect their ability to work and participate in the afternoon.

Perhaps an argument over a football, or name-calling that went too far. Such everyday occurrences leave children in a state of stress, in a “fight or flight” mode, where they can’t focus well or learn effectively. Thinking carefully about playtimes is essential.

Many schools find that promoting a range of playground games can make playtimes more positive and help eliminate boredom or unconstructive behaviour.

In the past, playtime games, often taught to younger children by older siblings and friends, helped whole communities of children to develop and use their imagination, to hone their skills of interacting socially, of cooperation, of negotiation and of turn-taking. They also learnt how to create their own fun and, importantly, they ran around and kept fit without effort. All of these are skills and qualities that young people require during later years.

One more hidden benefit of playing playground games is learning about the importance of everyone following the group’s rules. This can contribute to a school’s positive behaviour management work and can help develop an inner locus of control. Children need to quickly become responsible for their own behaviour and follow the rules by themselves once they know the games. If they don’t follow the rules, chances are they will not be invited to play next time. They will also quickly learn that when players don’t follow the rules, games become unsafe, unfair and not much fun.

Playing good playground games

I have observed that, with some training and resources, teachers, teaching assistants and lunchtime staff can quickly feel confident and empowered enough to initiate and organise traditional and new playground games. Children, however, need to know the games really well before they can enjoy them by themselves, and there are a variety of ways to help introduce new games and for children to become familiar with how to play them. Here are some ideas:

  • All teachers need to agree on six playground games that they will all teach in PE during the term. One should be a designated circle game, e.g. “In and out the dusty bluebells”, “I sent a letter to my love”, “Who stole the cookies”, “Hokey cokey”. As they will then already know them from PE, any child can just run into the game when they want to. It becomes a magnet for lonely children – a safe haven where they will feel part of the group.
  • Many children want to help and be recognised for their efforts – so you can recruit teams of them to become play leaders. They love applying to become play leaders and setting up differently zoned areas. Decide what zones you would be happy to set up with the children.
  • When children manage a particular zone, we call these children “zone managers”. It’s a great idea to make available to them cards with simple ideas on that the children can borrow for that particular zone. Some schools choose weather-proof games posters that can be screwed into the playground walls. For example, for a ball games zone, the cards might contain some of the old favourites like “Queenie Queenie”, “Who’s got the ball?”, “Piggy in the middle”, “Donkey”, “Dodgeball”, “Follow my leader”.
  • Another zone is called “traditional games zone”. Here the children don’t form a circle, but play games like “Oranges and lemons”, “What’s the time Mr Wolf?”, “Grandmother’s footsteps”. Another zone for older children which is incredibly popular is called “Four Square”. It involves four players passing a tennis ball while standing in a large square divided into four smaller squares.
  • Another idea is a make believe zone, which can house a box full of outdoor dressing up clothes and pieces of old material which can provide hours of imaginative role play.
  • One of my incentives systems is the “Jar of Good Choices”. Children earn marbles to be put in the jar either when given raffle tickets by lunchtime staff for positive behaviour or if rewarded by the teacher for something positive. The class treat when the jar is full can be a number of favourite activities, and among them a popular or new playground game or two.
  • After playtime, I recommend that children “Tell a Good Tale” – my strategy to counteract after-lunch moaning. Children are asked to bring in to class good news of lovely play, kind behaviour, great games, etc from the playground. The teacher has a two-minute sand timer and any child can tell a good tale about any other child who is not their best friend. They may choose to tell about someone who has played well at lunchtime or who has been kind and included others. For every good tale the teacher puts a marble into the class jar.
  • Skipping chants and skipping challenges keep children happy for hours. There are a range of songs like Cinderella dressed in yella, Lord Nelson sailed the seven seas, Bumper car bumper car number 28.
  • Clapping games need a zone of their own. My golden schools encourage children to demonstrate clapping games in assemblies where all the children and adults can practise together. Do you remember A sailor went to sea sea sea, See see my baby, When Lucy was a baby, My daddy was a baker.

Staff playing games too!

Some lunchtime supervisors are reluctant to start to play lunchtime games. They are worried that accidents might happen in other parts of the playground and they that they won’t have noticed. When we organise playgrounds well, we have a few lunchtime supervisors on play duty and one or two on patrol duty as well with their first aid kit bag and high visibility jacket on. So the supervisors on play duty know to point any child in difficulty in the direction of the supervisor on patrol duty to ask for help. And for headteachers – the biggest tip that I can give you is to go and play with the children.

Final thoughts

Playtimes are a vital part of the child’s school day and what happens during them can affect the whole life of the individual child and the school. Taking precise and definite steps to making playtimes happy for both children and staff can help boost morale, wellbeing and fundamental social, emotional and academic accomplishments.

  • Jenny Mosley has, over the past 30 years, developed her school and classroom management models based upon a background of teaching experience and research. She is the author of a number of practical books for primary schools and she holds regular open training days throughout the UK. Visit

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