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Study finds structured playtimes can improve social inclusion

Structured playtimes can help to boost social inclusivity and give children the skills needed to develop friendships in the playground, a new study has found.

Funded by UK play specialists, Sovereign, and delivered by not-for-profit organisation, Chuckle Productions, schools throughout the UK could benefit from the study, which  has discovered that giving children access to a structured lunchtime provision could have a positive impact on their social skills, as well as increased confidence, problem solving, and more.

Sara Christie, Paediatric Physiotherapist and Chuckle Productions Director, explains: “Lunchtimes can be difficult for children as they try to master the skills of negotiating the rules of play, keeping up with the latest trend or craze and understanding the intricacies of friendships. Unhappy lunchtime experiences may influence a child’s ability to concentrate and learn during the afternoon lessons.

“In a bid to prevent negative experiences and reduce feelings of isolation in the playground, we developed a project to help equip children with the skills needed to form friendships and be included socially. This was piloted with positive results at Cooper Perry Primary School in Stafford with the help of children aged 5 to 8 years.

“Over two school terms, we found that all the children involved with the project showed improvements, from subtle changes through to large advances in a variety of skills.”

The project

The study involved the introduction of a structured programme of activities that support the development of physical and social skills. These activities were delivered to children in the form of twice weekly lunchtime sessions, carefully formulated to influence a positive impact on inclusion.

Jennie Hine, Education Consultant, comments: “We delivered the pilot to a selection of children who were identified as requiring additional help in developing the skills required to make and sustain positive, supportive friendships.  We also wanted to encourage all pupils to understand that everyone is different and to treat those differences in a kind, respectful manner.

“Over the course of the 2-term pilot, we worked with 7 focus* pupils and over 20 support** pupils during lunchtimes. With the focus always being on helping the children learn the skills needed to be included socially, the sessions gave pupils the opportunity to engage in a variety of team, small group and paired games and tasks. All children participated in activities that promoted turn-taking, sharing, and listening within busy social situations, problem solving, creativity, imaginative play and the development of fine and gross motor skills. We also focused on developing pupils’ emotional vocabulary and teaching the children a calming-down strategy.”


  • After just one term, a small number of the focus pupils no longer needed the support of the group and were ready to navigate lunchtimes independently. For these pupils, all that was needed was a short, focused intervention to help and enhance their understanding of the intricacies of playground games and friendships.
  • Other focus pupils required a little longer to learn and explore the strategies being taught before applying these confidently outside on the playground. However, positive results were noted throughout the second term with some focus children progressively becoming ready to transfer their new knowledge of games and friendship skills into the playground, even during the last six weeks of the pilot.
  • For a selection of focus children who had with multifaceted learning needs, the study found a longer period of input and possibly ongoing support would be required for the children to be able to generalise the skills taught.
  • There were many positive effects on the support pupils involved in the project. Although Chuckle only formally tracked the progress of the focus pupils, it was evident from observing the pupils within the group that there were many positive outcomes for the support pupils involved e.g. building friendships with pupils they may not have played with before; understanding the consequences of their words and actions; learning strategies to be a superhero friend and developing a repertoire of suitable playground games.

Chris Gaskell, National Sales Manager at Sovereign Play Equipment comments: “We are delighted that our sponsorship has allowed Chuckle Productions, in collaboration with Cooper Perry Primary School, to trial such an inspiring programme. The results indicate that, with support through a structured lunchtime provision, children who struggle to unearth new friendships can be given the tools and confidence they need to feel included.

“At Sovereign, we invest a lot of time into the research and development of outdoor equipment that supports learning through play. This has great synergies with the Chuckle project and so, we are optimistic that this pilot could go on to help many children.”

Jennie concludes: “We passionately believe that this programme can make a difference and after piloting the scheme, feel it could become a valuable provision for schools. We’re excited about the prospect of rolling-out the programme to many other schools during subsequent academic years.”