In my school, we call our main hard surface play area “The Yard”, which I think is much more descriptive than the usual “playground”. The relevant definition of a yard in the dictionary is “a piece of uncultivated ground adjoining a building, typically enclosed by walls or buildings” and that describes our Yard perfectly. Of course, in America, your yard is your garden, and that also works. Our students go outside during breaks to hang around in their yard.
A lot happens in the Yard. Students greet each other, talk, eat, huddle around a new game screen, generally loiter and line up before going to the next lesson. Our students tend not to play ball games in the Yard, reserving that activity for the school field, and it is unsaid that it is not a place for running about. Students learn early in year seven not to drop litter as it encourages the seagulls who delight in dive bombing a straight line-up, depositing a very messy payload!
The whole school gathers in the Yard for Remembrance in November. There have been cake sales, car cleaning, static cycling marathons and even a Shakespearean flash mob. The buildings change, the people change, but the Yard has always been there.
Why am I telling you this?
I have written about improving our outdoor spaces in the past because I think it is so easy to overlook them and their importance in school life. I’ve been standing in this Yard for eight years now (if you’re standing with me, whoever you are – Headteacher, Caretaker or new-to-the-school Teacher – in my head, your name is Julio) watching the goings-on. I find it poignant that the students I started with have now gone onto their next stage in life, their secondary schooling over. The Yard, of all the places in the school, serves to remind me of the transiency within a school. Staff and students arrive, learn and progress onwards. The buildings are improved and added to (boilers come and go!), the trees sprout and shed foliage, and the cycle of the academic year goes on.
At the same time, whatever changes take place in education, curriculum, funding or policy, the Yard stays the same. A place of friendship, of free time, of anticipation and positivity. An all-weather area that is protected and safe. A place where those real school memories are made.
Every school should have a Yard. A central focus for everyone in the school community to gather, talk, remember and look to the future. I think we should all spend more time there, enjoy it and look to continually improve the space.
So, if you’re looking, and I’m not at my desk, you know where to find me…I’ll be with Julio, down by the school Yard.