schools no friends playground

Playground support plans

March 1, 2017

no friends

For many students playing with others, and making and keeping friends seems to be quite effortless, but for a number it can be a challenge. Certain children find the unstructured nature of the schoolyard overwhelming, while others do not tolerate their peers for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, about one in ten school-age children have no friends and are disliked by most of their classmates. [1] Asher, S.R., and Williams, G.A., (1996) Children without friends, Part 1: Their problems, research for the National Network for Child Care’s … Continue reading

Playground support plans can be created for individuals who have trouble with play, as part of the student support program and/or incorporated as part of the overall wellbeing program.

The benefits

Playground support plans can reduce anxiety, and increase engagement with play at break times. They can help students to improve social thinking skills, meaningful play engagement, understanding the nuances and hidden ‘social’ rules of the playground, and guide them in regulating their feelings and emotions.

They work well for students diagnosed with conditions, such as ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Intellectual Disability, learning disability, and others who struggle to make and keep friends. An example of a plan for a child diagnosed with autism can be viewed at Autism Classroom Resources.

The focus student can come off daily playground plans earlier than other students in the school yard, to allow more time in transitioning back to the classroom. Over time, some students may have their plans modified to reduce reliance on the program, as the child gains additional play and social skills.


Plans can be constructed with written points and/or visuals such as photos, drawings, video clips and diagrams. IPad apps that help support the scheduling of playground plans can also be utilised in the playground. For a comprehensive list of education apps see Touch Autism and software from Spectronics Boardmaker.

The detail and the format of a playground support plan will depend on the age and skill level of the child and may include:

  • Where and when a student(s) might play on a given day, and may even suggest peer(s) with whom they might play.
  • Photos of games and activities the child can choose to play during a break. These can be based on their interests and passions. The child selects from 2 – 3 options. Activities might be:
    • Open ended such as playing with a bucket of Lego, tennis ball, basket ball, art materials, gardening or cleaning up by providing access to gardening equipment, brooms, brushes and pans.
    • Structured tasks such as ICT programs involving coding or robotics, board games, gardening, art and craft, cross stitch, or table tennis. This could also include large plastic outdoor games of chess or checkers.
    • A set of agreed rules about how a game such as 4-square, cricket, soccer, or basketball will be played, to minimise possible ‘triggers’ or disruption to the play.
    • A break or downtime offering respite from social interaction, for example, going to the library to read a book, or sitting in a quiet corner of the school.
  • Explicit prompts about how to play games fairly using social prompts during play. This could include:
    • A video containing clips that illustrate rules for games. Clips can also be created or accessed via an iPad using Video Scheduler
    • Hand drawn cartoons or stick figures modelling social difficulties that might be encountered, such as turn taking, not walking off in a huff, sharing, and maintaining self-control.
  • Names of adults or approved peer mentors who can guide the child during breaks. This may include of 1 – 3 teachers, teacher aides, other approved leaders or peer mentors who can help implement and maintain a playground schedule to support a successful play outcome.

Work with parents

The involvement of parents in the development and review of the plan can help to promote successful implementation. Schools must also communicate clearly with the parents of children involved in the plan, whether they are a group participant such as a play mate, peer support or peer mentor, or participating as the focus child.

Additional support

  • Also, see forthcoming Psych4Schools ebooklet, Working with children who have friendship issues.

Murray Evely, Psych4Schools Psychologist

Gabe Sheahan, Wellbeing & Student Services Coordinator, St. Brigid’s Primary School

Gabe Sheahan Dip. Tch. (Prim.), BEd (Special Ed.), MEd has worked in mainstream and specialist settings with a special interest in students with Autism Spectrum Disorder and special needs since 1996. Gabe is currently working at St. Brigid’s Primary, Mordialloc, Victoria. She can be contacted on