Top 10 tips for... Better school break-times

Written by: Suzanne O’Connell | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock
Heya. This is a good idea. We have bought hula hoops, and various other games as well for the ...

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How does your school organise its break-times? As part of her top 10 tips series, Suzanne O’Connell considers making break-times better

1, Keep them active

Boredom is often the reason why pupils get into trouble at break-times. Finding activities for them to do is a sure way of reducing the number of incidents and making sure that the time is used productively. Try establishing a rota of playtime games that take their turn in the playground. You might vary availability by class or year group or even create your own playground circuit.

Some examples include:

  • Skipping ropes, hopscotch, hula hoops and elastics.
  • Different types of balls – footballs, mini balls, tennis balls and rackets, bouncy balls, basketballs, foam balls.
  • Different types of bats to go with them – tennis rackets, table tennis bats, Velcro bats, rounders bats.
  • Other items to throw and catch – bean bags, skittles, frisbees.
  • Parachute games, obstacle games and races with cones.
  • A role-play corner outside – why not!
  • Stepping-stones or balance beams.
  • Shuttlecocks and racquets.

There are many more examples – invite parents’ groups and children to add to the list and then help you raise money to buy the kit!

2, Hand out responsibilities

Your year 5 and 6 students can be given monitor type activities at break-times. This can range from handing out equipment to encouraging others to take up games and even explaining the rules to them. Provide training for them and make them feel special for doing this – for example by giving them a uniform.

And try not to just use those who always volunteer for everything – take some calculated risks in your allocation of duties...

3, If it’s wet...

Have a stock of board games ready for pupils to play and make them a requirement of any indoor break session. Involve each class of pupils in making some games of their own to use. Playing cards can be a cheap and versatile resource for older pupils in particular. There are many different card games with various levels of complexity that can be introduced to classes, one game at a time.

4, Try a different bell

Why does the school bell have to sound like a school bell? Consider arranging for music to be played to announce break-time and conclude it. You can choose themes each week for the music and involve your pupils in deciding what should be played.

5, Walk around the block

Your break-time activity can be a whole school one. Many schools have adopted a five-minute walking exercise around the school block as part of their school day. When time is short, why not make this part of your allocated break-time?

6, Friendship benches

Not everyone wants to take part in activities – some want to just sit and chat. Some schools have allocated a bench for anyone who is looking for a friend. In the summer, benches that are grouped together or chairs that can be brought out can be used as an external reading corner. Have some book bags with multiple copies of favourite books that pupils can read together. This is also useful for wet breaks too.

7, Think carefully about your rota

Break-time duty is not high on your teachers’ list of favourite pastimes so look for ways of making it easier for them. Can someone be appointed to take their class for the last five minutes to allow them a toilet break and time for a drink first? Can a teaching assistant begin the next class? Some of these adjustments will need to be made within year groups and will of course depend on personnel.

Try and find ways of recompensing someone who covers playground duty for an absent member of staff. Perhaps they could have one of their break time sessions covered at a later date.

8, Look creatively at your playground

Is it used as effectively as it might be? Are there areas for children to do different activities – whether they want to chill out and chat or engage in a team game? Are the different age ranges catered for? How?

Perhaps you could allocate a portion of your playground where you can simply leave items for imaginative play. For example, if you have had a delivery including large cardboard boxes, why not simply leave the boxes out for pupil to play with? Of course, you will want to ensure that materials are safe but you might be surprised what your pupils can do with the most commonplace objects.

9, Remember – some skills need to be taught

Pupils will not always have the skills they need to play the games you think they should. Build-in some teaching sessions when new equipment arrives or when you are introducing a new activity to make sure that your pupils know how to play the game. You might have hopscotch markings on your playground, but do all the children know how to play it correctly or what variations they can introduce? Can we teach turn-taking, team-work and other skills at the same time?

10, Give the playground status

Any important part of school practice has a policy and someone with responsibility for it – so why not the playground too? The time in the playground can be a learning opportunity and is certainly good for physical activity and socialising.

It deserves to be given status as an area on your school development plan with a member of staff to champion it. They can then be responsible for consulting stakeholders about the improvements that need to be made and perhaps conduct problem-solving activities when it comes to replacing resources or organising new activities.

  • Suzanne O’Connell is a freelance education writer and a former primary school headteacher.

Headteacher Update Summer Term Edition 2023

This article first appeared in Headteacher Update's Summer Term Edition 2023. This edition was sent free of charge to every primary school in the country. A digital edition is also available via

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This is a good idea. We have bought hula hoops, and various other games as well for the children to use in order to amuse themselves with. I am also looking at having puzzle packs made up in addition to those activity books. Best wishes. I love your blog. And I am hoping to buy a few more cheap art and craft supplies from a number of places that stock art and craft stuff during the winter. I also want to purchase magazines and toys as well at some point for the children to use during their play times. I think that a small variety of such things may work in my favour overall. But we will see what happens. I really do love the idea of having a dedicated playroom and so on.

I have even seen a lot of decent different options over the years of my life. Recommendations on where to look on the internet for cheap handy stuff for a small playroom welcome. Thank you so much in advance. We have a purpose built cupboard for gym equipment already. Hopefully I can add more. Considering installing all this winter. Finding ideas is hard work however I will keep at it.

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