Playtimes are TOPS at Ballymacash PS

The newly appointed Minister for Education, Peter Weir MLA presented Ballymacash PS with the inaugural PlayBoard TOPS' Quality Assurance Award for Outdoor Play in Schools. Pictured also are the seven staff members of the school's Play Working Group, Principal Stephen Gray and some of the pupils who are enjoying the new playground activities. Picture: Michael Cooper
The newly appointed Minister for Education, Peter Weir MLA presented Ballymacash PS with the inaugural PlayBoard TOPS' Quality Assurance Award for Outdoor Play in Schools. Pictured also are the seven staff members of the school's Play Working Group, Principal Stephen Gray and some of the pupils who are enjoying the new playground activities. Picture: Michael Cooper

Ballymacash Primary School is leading the way in children’s playtime.

The local school has been awarded the first ever PlayBoard TOPS (Taking Outdoor Play Seriously) Quality Assurance Award for Outdoor Play in Schools.

The award marks the schools’ efforts to improve its outdoor space in order to give pupils more opportunities to play. And those pupils will no doubt be delighted as the new features include a messy play kitchen, free standing chalk boards, loose parts play and large scale junk construction, setting up chill out areas, shaving foam art, ice exploration and much more.

Ballymacash Principal Stephen Gray explained: “In February last year we brought PlayBoard in to provide some training for the staff on how we could enhance opportunities for play within the school.

“This led in September 2015 to our securing funding from the Big Lottery ‘Awards for All’ programme to embark on a process of transforming the outdoor environment to broaden opportunities for play during break times.”

The school then established a Play Working Group of teaching and non-teaching staff, who worked with pupils to develop the space.

Congratulating the school, Jacqueline O’Loughlin (PlayBoard CEO) said: “Play is one of the main ways children learn about the world around them. Play is natural and instinctive, allowing children to test their own abilities and to learn and develop new skills and knowledge. As such play has a critical role in schools – offering both an outlet for expending energy during break times and as a means of contributing to learning through the curriculum. Ballymacash can be rightly proud of this achievement and I have no hesitation in saying that as a TOPS school they are committed to enhancing opportunities for play-based curricular learning; broadening active and social play; and better meeting children’s natural play needs.”

Lisa Armstrong and Lauren Belshaw from the Play Working Group highlighted the impact of the changes adding that the new mud kitchen and outdoor classroom have enhanced outdoor play opportunities and made the outdoor space more visually stimulating for the children.

Speaking at the event, Education Minister Peter Weir said: “This is the first time this award has been presented and I am very pleased that Ballymacash Primary School is the first recipient.

“Play is essential to a child’s development. It is how friendships are made and provides an opportunity to learn and exercise in a fun way.

“Ballymacash is a school that, with the expert support of PlayBoard, has taken a truly creative and innovative approach to enhancing learning through play. The Principal, the staff and the children should be congratulated for how they have transformed the outdoor school environment.”