When Tamara Bell arrived at Southbridge School in 2017 to take on the role of principal, she was surprised at what she found.

Bell had arrived at the rural decile eight school, having previously taught at a big intermediate and was surprised to find children presented daily issues in the playground.

“It wasn’t that we had a whole lot of naughty children, it’s just things weren’t set up well.”

Children were getting really angry and arguing, and it could turn physical at times. There was a lot of swearing, and then as kids got upset or a game didn’t go their way, they would run off and not come back to class.

“We had lots of kids that wouldn’t return to class when the bell rang.”

“We talked a lot about what we could do to get the kids ready for learning and back into a safe environment in the classroom where we could help with conflict resolution, if there were issues at lunchtime.”

Bell and her team then found Sparklers.

“We just thought it was an ideal programme, ticking both those boxes.”

The school made a commitment to roll out Sparklers in term three of last year.

Sparklers activities were first run in the classroom after break times, to get children “running back into the class to have fun”.

“We wanted children to run back after lunch to get stuck into a Sparkler activity. Most of the activities were really helpful in getting the kids calm and ready for learning.”

Teachers chose activities according to the ages and levels of their students.

Children took an instant liking to the activities, with Hikitia te Ha becoming a hit with the senior boys.

“Being active and learning Te Reo Maori at the same time, was a real positive for them.”

Sleepy Statues was another hit, and provided the younger classes with quiet time when needed.

“There is no one child who doesn’t benefit from Sparklers.”

“It had a really positive impact on the kids and teachers, and we saw some noticeable differences really quickly. Terms one and two were a big problem for us. There wouldn’t have been a break where I didn’t get a notice telling me a pupil hadn’t come back to class.”

“Sometimes we would have four kids not going back to class. That doesn’t happen anymore. Kids go back to class.”

These days, Sparkler activities were used by teachers throughout the day, as much or as little as they liked.

Mandela colouring continued to be a popular activity for some kids to do after lunch.

Bell said the Mandela activity was particularly beneficial, as it served several purposes, like addressing any trouble with pencil grip.

“This is a way of addressing fine motor skills through a fun activity… It’s helping them to hold a pencil, and focus and gain the concentration needed to sit and colour for a period of time.”

Tummy breathing, sensory kete, compliment posters and pepeha were among the school’s favourite activities.

“We got really positive change initially, but what was really cool was that they started a revolution and encouraged us to look at alternative ways to help get them ready for learning.”

“As a result, we’ve changed lots of things.”

Southbridge School now had five break times scattered throughout the day.

At play times, children played first, before coming back in to eat.

“It feels like a different school now. We’ve been really fortunate that it’s become a really lovely place to be and to be out on duty. And I can honestly say, it wasn’t always like that last year.”