With thousands of schools still open for the children of key workers, many teachers are asking whether it is still safe to play outdoors. The simple answer to this is yes; however, only if carried out safely. Here, we’ll explain why playing out is still very important and how it should be conducted to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.
Fitter, Better, Sooner
‘Fitter, Better, Sooner’ is a health initiative from the Centre for Perioperative Care (CPOC) that aims to improve people’s recovery rates from surgery and to reduce the number of post-operative complications. In recent days, however, CPOC has issued advice to the UK public that following the Fitter, Better, Sooner guidance can help people be in a better state of health to fight Coronavirus and thus reduce the chances that they will become seriously ill from it.
The advice from CPOC is for people to stop smoking, have alcohol-free days, take brisk exercise, eat nutritiously and stay mentally healthy. While some of this guidance is obviously aimed at adults, for the children of key workers still attending school, teachers can do their bit to help improve physical health and mental wellbeing. This is perhaps critically important for those children still at school, many of whom will have increased risk of catching the virus because their parents work in the healthcare system.
When it comes to physical health, the advice is to take a brisk walk, cycle or jog. In addition, exercise that improves strength and balance is also recommended. Many of these forms of exercise can be done in the school playground and taking this opportunity means children now restricted to leaving home once a day, can get outside for an additional period of time, which can be beneficial to their mental wellbeing.
Playing safely during Coronavirus
If you allow children to play outside during the Coronavirus pandemic, it is important that social distancing rules are strictly adhered to. This means pupils must remain a minimum of 6 feet or 2 metres apart at all times. At the same time, because the virus can be spread from touching surfaces, children must not be allowed to share equipment during play, this includes everything from climbing frames to footballs. Indeed, for safety, pupils shouldn’t be given access to shared play apparatus and must be told not to pick up anything that has been handled by someone else, even if it is something as seemingly innocuous as a stick.
The implication is that, even though there will be very few pupils in the school, any outdoor activities need to be planned, structured and supervised. Perhaps one of the best forms of exercise for both children and staff is to take part in the Daily Mile – this will give an opportunity for brisk walking or jogging, which can be done with staggered starts to keep children at a safe distance from each other. Alternatively, you can always have races and even introduce fun by asking them to hop, jump, balance and even do dance moves while taking part. Indeed, if you have a battery-operated CD player, why not play games like ‘freeze dance’ where children dance until the music stops and then have to freeze in whatever position they were in?
If you have playground markings for stepper training or games like hopscotch, pupils can take turns while their friends watch at a safe distance. Of course, instead of having an object to throw and retrieve, they can just be assigned a square to finish on.
If teachers are stuck for ideas for physical activities, one possible solution is to look at drama starters and warm-up activities, many of which are done individually but with the purpose of showing to others. These are fun and active ways to get children engaged while outdoors.
Aside from being good for their fitness and mental wellbeing, getting pupils out of doors has other benefits. As social distancing means they will be cooped up at home for most of the time, there is increased risk of Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D, which is essential for good health, is produced in our bodies when skin is exposed to sunlight. Getting children out into the playground is an effective way to boost their Vitamin D levels.
At the same time, being outdoors gives the opportunity to keep children even further apart than 6 feet. The more time they spend outside, therefore, the less chance there is of them passing the virus on to others.
Finally, remember that pupils should wash or sanitise their hands on return to the school after playing out.
For the children of key workers still attending school, outdoor play and exercise can improve physical fitness and mental wellbeing. According to the CPOC, this, together with a healthy diet, can increase the body’s ability to fight the virus. However, for outdoor play to take part, play equipment should be thoroughly cleaned before and after use. This means teachers will need to think carefully about the activities they plan for playtimes and PE.