Coronavirus Lockdown – Can Pupils Still At School Play Outdoors?

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.

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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.

Other benefits

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.

Conclusion

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.

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Playground Design and Fundraising Ideas for Schools During Coronavirus

If your school has been considering a new playground, the Coronavirus lockdown might provide the time to plan your new outdoor space and even do a spot of online fundraising. With the majority of pupils and their parents at home looking for things to occupy their time, there’s a lot of opportunity for pupil and parent involvement in your project. Here are some ideas you might want to consider.

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Designing your new school playground

There’s a lot to think about when designing a new playground for schools and nurseries. Some things, of course, need a specialist’s view, like whether groundwork needs to be carried out for drainage before new surfacing is laid. On the other hand, there are plenty of things that pupils and parents can get involved in, like choosing their favourite pieces of play apparatus and thinking of different kinds of zones that they might want to play in.

As most children are absent during the Coronavirus pandemic, you can set homework tasks that encourage pupil involvement in your playground redevelopment planning. One interesting project would be to get them to design their ideal playground. You could start by creating a downloadable outline of your playground, so they have an idea of the shape and size of the space and you could then ask them to visit our products page so they can find the outdoor play equipment that most appeals to them.

To make things more realistic and challenging, ask them to choose the types of zone they want to include, such as a nature area, climbing zone, a place for sport and PE, a dining and seating area, space for roleplay and creative fun, a sensory zone, etc. and then ask them to select equipment for each zone.

Once this has been done, the pupils can then create their design in colour, label the zones and write a list of the equipment they want to go in it. They can then email the project to their teacher. If you want to give even more challenge, ask the pupils to create a 3D design and send in a photo. To raise the profile of the project, you can even make it into a competition and give prizes for the best designs.

The benefit of this is that it gives school leaders a clear idea of how pupils of different ages, abilities and interests want to use the outdoor space. This helps you create an inclusive playground with a range of zones that appeal to all children. It also ensures that you spend your budget effectively, purchasing apparatus that you know will engage pupils and be well used.

It is not just pupils who you can get on board, either. With many parents forced to stay at home, they’ll have more time to answer questionnaires about what they want to see in the school playground. You could also set up an online playground working group, with parents and teachers conducting discussions over video chat.

New playground fundraising

Just because schools are closed for most pupils doesn’t mean fundraising activities for your new playground have to cease. Since the Corona outbreak began, millions of people are keeping in touch with friends and loved ones using video chat apps like Skype and Zoom. Social media is full of examples of how these are being creatively used. It is possible, for example, for your school to hold an online talent competition or even a school band performance where the various musicians each play from home. For fundraising purposes, you can ask parents to contribute via platforms like ParentPay or even set up a GoFundMe account.

Aside from using video and live streaming, there are other ways to raise money during the lockdown. You could, for example, ask the parent-teacher association to host a ‘buy now, receive later’ bun sale. Alternatively, you could hold a bric-a-brac auction where parents pledge to pay for items once things return to normal.

Finally, with your pupils having quite a bit more free time, there is a lot of opportunity to undertake sponsored activities, with people paying their sponsorship online. Of course, with pupils’ movement being restricted, they’ll need to come up with some inventive ideas about what they can do – but that just adds to the fun and challenge of it.

Conclusion

Though Coronavirus is causing major disruption, schools looking to redevelop their playgrounds have the potential to bring something positive from the experience. Undertaking design and fundraising during the lockdown can unite the school community to achieve something that will, once the pandemic is over, benefit everyone. Hopefully, the ideas given here will be useful.

If you are considering a new playground, visit our Free Playground Design Service page. For design inspiration, make sure you check out the video while you’re there.

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Coronavirus and Outdoor Play – Advice for Schools and Nurseries

Coronavirus will be high on every school and nursery agenda at the moment and staff, parents and even children will have concerns about its spread. As providers of playground equipment, we have a specific interest in how Coronavirus can be spread in the playground and have been researching government, NHS and scientific guidance for schools and nurseries. Here is a summary of the most important information we have found.

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Outdoor play is beneficial

Although outdoor play cannot stop you getting Coronavirus, the opportunity to participate in exercise and to increase Vitamin D levels through exposure to sunlight can improve your body’s ability to fight the virus, making it less likely that an infection will become serious. According to Prof Arne Akbar of University College London and president of the British Society for Immunology, exercise increases blood flow and this mobilises white blood cells, enabling them to better ‘seek and destroy’ viruses in the body. Exercise also helps reduce stress, which is another way to boost the immune system - as is increasing our Vitamin D levels which are naturally lower during the winter when there is less sunlight and we don’t go outside as often.

In addition, playing in outdoor spaces gets pupils away from the more densely occupied and heavily trafficked areas of the school or nursery where there is more chance of someone getting infected. Indeed, reducing the length of time children are in these areas decreases the potential for surfaces to get contaminated. Overall, ensuring children can still play outside and take part in physical activities can be a positive step in safeguarding against Coronavirus.

Advice when playing outdoors

According to the UK government, there is currently no reason to stop doing outdoor play and sports as you normally would. However, hand hygiene should be strongly promoted and pupils should wash their hands (or use hand sanitiser) when entering and leaving the school or nursery. This can reduce the potential for outdoor equipment and surfaces getting contaminated and help prevent the virus being brought from the playground back into the building.

Besides hands, it is also important to ensure surfaces remain clean. This includes outdoor play equipment, outdoor classroom resources, playground toys, sports equipment, tables, seats, shelters handrails and door or gate furniture.

Advice from the World Health Organization tells us that Coronavirus can live on surfaces for up to several days. However, this depends on several factors, such as the type of surface, exposure to sunlight, temperature and humidity. In most instances, the amount of coronavirus on a contaminated surface will have decreased substantially after 24 hours and potentially even more on outdoor surfaces.

Dr Jenny Harries, England's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said that Coronavirus will not survive very long outside and that many outdoor events are safe. Although the government’s planned specific advice on cleaning equipment has not yet been published, all outdoor equipment should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected after use, especially objects that are frequently touched by hands.

The government has, however, released information about keeping educational establishments clean in circumstances where staff suspect that there may be a case of Coronavirus – i.e. is someone is showing symptoms. In these situations, the school or nursery must follow ‘current workplace legislation and recommended practice’, cleaning all the surfaces that the individual has come into contact with, using disposable cloths and household detergents. Things needing to be cleaned include any surfaces or objects that are ‘visibly contaminated with bodily fluids’ and any potentially contaminated high-contact areas or items.

However, if a person suspected of having the virus only passes through an area or has spent limited time there, and there are no surfaces visibly contaminated with body fluids, deep cleaning and disinfecting are not (at the time of publication) currently required.

Conclusion

Unless government advice changes, outdoor play, learning and sports should continue to take place in schools and nurseries; indeed there may be benefits to the immune system from doing so. When outdoors, it is advised that pupils should wash or sanitise their hands on exit and return to the main building and that regular cleaning and disinfecting of playground equipment should take place, especially surfaces that come into contact with hands or bodily fluids.

Please note that Coronavirus is a new virus and that guidance and advice may be subject to change as more is learnt about it. For more information read the Gov.uk page Guidance to educational settings about COVID-19.

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Making the Most of Your Playground Design – Ideas to Consider

Is your school or nursery taking full advantage of your outdoor spaces? Does your playground fulfil all the things you want it to? For establishments looking to develop outdoor provision, there are plenty of ways to make improvements. To give you some idea of what it is possible to achieve through playground design, here are some points you may wish to consider.

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Playground design lets you optimise outdoor spaces

Sometimes, it is difficult to visualise the potential you have to transform your outdoor space. Anyone who has watched the BBC TV programme ‘Your Home Made Perfect’ will have seen how the show’s architects used virtual reality to remove all the walls in a house, letting owners see how the entire space could be reimagined. Although you might not have virtual reality technology at hand, starting your playground design by creating a blank plan of your outdoor areas, removing existing features like walls or fences, enables you to see how the entire space could be put to better use.

Even if you require development on a smaller scale, there might still be quirky, unused or forgotten areas that can be given a new lease of life with the right equipment, perhaps installing wonky mirrors onto walls, putting a storytelling circle on a grassy corner or filling an empty recess with a shelter.

Designing an all-weather playground

To get optimum use out of your playground, you want children to be able to enjoy it all year round. The starting point for making this happen is having the right playground surfacing installed. While different uses can require different types of surface, modern surfacing materials like resin-bound gravel, artificial grass, wetpour and rubber mulch are all better suited to wet weather play than puddle-prone asphalt and tarmac and muddy grass. Though even grassed areas can be used in the wet when they have protective grass matting to stop them churning up. By introducing surfaces like these, with excellent drainage, you reduce the chances of slippage and make the playground more inviting to play in, even during a shower.

Of course, there are always children who hate wet weather and days when the rain will be heavy. However, there are still things you can do to make the playground useable. Playground shelters, including some with windbreaking side panels and built-in seating, offer places for the rain-averse to sit in and for everyone else to congregate during a downpour. You can also install sail shades close to the side of the school too, and these will protect against both the rain and the sunshine. Another solution is to install play huts for smaller groups to occupy.

Designing for variety and inclusion

The key to getting the most from your playground is providing variety for your pupils. Today, the solution for achieving this comes through designing a playground with a range of play zones, each providing a different type of activity. Our free playground design service ensures your playground fulfils all the things you want from it. You can create spaces for play, PE and learning while providing inclusive and engaging activities that are fun, healthy and meet the needs of all pupils.

The type of equipment you install depends upon the needs, interests and ages of your students, and we always advocate getting your pupils and parents involved in the decision-making process. Not only does this help you install the equipment the pupils want; it also means you’ll have a more enthusiastic group of fundraisers.

Schools and nurseries have a lot of options when it comes to the types of playground equipment they can install, however, when it comes to zones, the most popular tend to be an area for playing sport and teaching PE, an outdoor classroom, a playground game area (for hopscotch, tag, skipping, etc.) a challenge and risk zone with exciting climbing apparatus, a water and sand messy play area, a creative area (for art, roleplay, music, dance, etc.), a sensory area and a quiet nature area.

Of course, as most schools and nurseries have limited space and budgets, clever design can be used to make some zones multi-purpose. A quiet nature area, for example, can also be used as a storytelling or reading corner and a place to study plants, insects and the weather.

Funding for playground development

Developing a playground can be expensive and often requires schools to apply for funding and to raise funds themselves. However, there are a variety of grants that you may be eligible to apply for and here at ESP Play, we can help you find them. At the same time, Parent Teacher Associations do a terrific job at fundraising and, over the years, we have seen many raise substantial amounts to help transform their school and nursery playgrounds.

Conclusion

Though the playground is one of a school or nursery’s most valuable assets, it is often under-utilised. Careful playground design can help you make the most of it, ensuring optimal use of space, accessible all year round, while providing a broad range of learning and play activities that suit the needs and preferences of your children.

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How to Keep Pupils Safe in the Playground During Winter

The risk of injury in the schoolyard increases dramatically during the winter months when snow, ice and frost create hazardous conditions. Winter weather can make playground surfaces and outdoor play equipment very slippery and cause damage which needs to be quickly repaired. At the same time, children need to learn to behave and dress appropriately for the weather conditions they encounter. In this post, we’ll look at some of the ways to improve safety in the winter playground.

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Watch out for slippery surfaces

Almost all playground surfaces are at risk from ice in one way or another. This even includes some loose-fill surfaces, like wood mulch and loose gravel which can create hard, solid surfaces when insufficient drainage causes them to freeze over. A more effective and long-term solution would be to use rubber mulch which cannot freeze. However, effective drainage is essential for all surfaces to reduce the potential for freezing, so if water isn’t draining away adequately, you may need a more detailed inspection to discover the cause so that it can be rectified.

Ice isn’t just caused by freezing water, it can also be caused by compacted snow. In the playground, this can be particularly hazardous as the more children walk on snow, the icier and more slippery it becomes – especially when the more dare-devil children start turning it into a slide. The best remedy to stop snow being turned into ice is to be proactive and grit the surfaces whenever snow is forecast. This will prevent snow from settling so it cannot be compacted. However, if ice has formed, the safest solution is to stop the surface being used until the ice has melted away. Equipment should also be tested for ice, especially climbing equipment which may need to be taken out of use in icy conditions.

One final thing you should remember is that when water turns to ice, it expands. When this happens between two surfaces, the force the expansion exerts can cause damage or erosion. The tiny gaps in asphalt and tarmac surfaces are particularly vulnerable to this form of erosion and this is why you might see potholes and loose patches of gravel after the thaw. Not only will these become worse with heavy use; they are also potential trip hazards and should be repaired quickly in order to reduce risk and cost. Newer forms of hard surfaces, like resin bound gravel, use resin as protection against freeze-thaw erosion and are therefore safer and more weather-resistant.

Get rid of snow

Although snow feels soft, it should never be considered as an adequate surface to leave under elevated play equipment like climbing frames as its slipperiness increases the risk of injury to those who land on it. Similarly, pupils are more likely to bump into equipment with snow around it or fall off structures that have snow on them. If feasible, snow should be brushed off all equipment and shovelled away from the playground surface underneath. Even once this has happened, the equipment should still be inspected to ensure it is safe enough to use, as residual water can still be a slip hazard. Remember to check things like the ladder rungs, handrails, hanging bars, balance beams, platforms, slides, stepping beams and landing areas. This is particularly important on balancing and climbing equipment where there are no additional handrails.

Managing the children

Pupils can be a hazard to themselves in wintery conditions and it is important that adequate supervision is on-hand at all times, especially around busy areas and elevated apparatus. While snowballing is permitted in some schools, this should never be the case if snow has frozen and become dangerously hard and never near windows (broken glass is almost impossible to find in snow) or near those playing on climbing equipment. Pupils should also be discouraged from running on snow as it not only increases the risk of falling, there are also more chances for collisions to occur.

While pupils should be suitably attired for outdoor play during the poor winter weather, some items of clothing can increase the risk of injury when children are playing on certain types of equipment. Gloves, for example, prevent children from safely gripping jungle bars or traversing walls, while dangling scarves and drawstrings can get caught up in some apparatus.

Finally, to prevent hazards being taken from the playground to the school building, ensure there are mats at the entrances for children to wipe their feet. Wet corridors and staircases can also be very slippery.

Conclusion

As you can see, winter weather can present a number of potential hazards to children in the playground. Hopefully, the suggestions made here will help you ensure your pupils stay safe.

If you are looking for safer surfaces for your outdoor play areas, check out our playground surfacing page.

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