Why Outdoor Play is Vital For Primary Pupils

Primary pupils

Primary pupils love to play outside and doing so benefits them in many ways. It improves health, wellbeing and even helps them do better in the classroom. It also encourages the development of the key personal and social skills which they will need throughout their lives. The children, of course, won’t be too interested in any of this: for them, playing out is all about fun, excitement and moments of pure joy. However, with little opportunity to play out at home, primary schools that provide children with a well-equipped playground are laying the foundations for a brighter future for their pupils. Here’s why.

Long-term health benefits

The rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes among primary pupils is a key indicator of the decline in physical activity undertaken by children in today’s society. By providing the time, space and equipment to participate in physical activity in the playground, schools can help them become healthier. They will burn calories, improve fitness, become stronger and benefit from all the good things that come from these. What’s more, when these opportunities are provided at an early age, it increases the chances that children will maintain healthy lifestyles into adulthood.

Encouraging children to become active in the playground can be done in many ways. Simply giving them space to run is a good start, but you can incentivise them even more by adding playground markings for games like football or netball or which get them to jump and hop. Climbing equipment is also great for getting kids active and there is a wide range available to suit pupils from nursery to year 6. Another way is to install an outdoor stage, play some music and get the children dancing. If it gets them moving, it is good for their health.

Contributes to mental wellbeing

Mental health is a major issue for the UK and those with mental disorders often have issues that have wide-ranging consequences. According to the latest NHS study, 12.2% of boys and 6.6% of girls aged between 5 and 10 suffer from a mental health disorder. Indeed, over 5% of pupils start school with a disorder and the numbers increase throughout primary and secondary education.

While outdoor play is not a panacea for mental health, it does have benefits. The Mental Health Foundation states that taking part in low-intensity, aerobic exercise for around 30 minutes a day is the best way to increase positive moods in primary aged children. This can help those with depression and anxiety cope with their disorder while preventing others from developing it.

The Daily Mile initiative, which encourages pupils to run, jog or walk for a mile each day is an excellent way to contribute to mental wellbeing. For schools that lack the space, then playground markings can offer the chance to take part in other aerobic activities.

Outdoor play leads to better learning

Outdoor play benefits learning in several ways. Simply having a break from the classroom and doing something fun can recharge the learning batteries and bring flagging concentration levels back to full steam. Doing something active during free time also gets the blood circulating, boosting brain power – a fact backed up by a University of British Columbia study which found regular aerobic exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in learning.

What’s more, playing outdoors enables children to develop many of the transferable skills essential for learning, like resilience, problem-solving, collaboration and concentration. Equipment such as Trim Trails obstacle courses, which offer both physical and cognitive challenges, are ideal for developing these skills and are also tremendous fun to play on.

Outdoor play can also improve classroom behaviour, with research showing that participation in physical activities helps children to stay on task and be better behaved. That’s good news for the teacher as well as the children.

The sociable child

The complex skills of social interaction take a while to master and primary pupils need plenty of opportunities to practice them. This is difficult to achieve in a classroom where time is directed and the rules of engagement are imposed on them. In the playground, there is scope for wider interaction and more freedom to make mistakes.

Taking part in playground activities enables children to learn important social skills, like negotiating, accepting group decisions and taking turns, while also helping them to become more effective communicators. Over time, they will need to make friends, ask for help and resolve disputes, fine-tuning their interactions with skills like tact, empathy and assertiveness.

Playground equipment that invites children to play together, whether for sport, games, roleplay or in creative pursuits is vital so that these important social skills can be honed.

Conclusion

Outdoor play is vital for primary pupils, giving them opportunities to improve physical health and mental wellbeing and to learn and interact better. Given the time, space and the right equipment at this stage in their development can have long-lasting benefits.

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The Role of Outdoor Play in Pupil Progress

Pupil progress is a cornerstone of the modern education system and something against which all schools are judged, both by Ofsted and in academic league tables. When it comes to improving progress, the emphasis is usually on what happens in the classroom, with heads wanting to improve the ways that teachers teach and pupils learn. One piece of the jigsaw often overlooked, however, is what happens outside of the classroom, in the school playground, and how this can play a vital contribution to pupil progress overall. Here we’ll look at the educational value of outdoor play.

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The link between outdoor activity and pupil progress

Playground activity is often physical activity and participation in this, especially when it involves aerobic exercise like running, jumping or climbing, can be beneficial for both physical health and academic progress. Indeed, a study by Public Health England (PHE) found evidence that aerobically fit pupils achieve higher academic results.

With many children no longer getting regular exercise at home, a result of cautious parenting and the lure of modern hi-tech gadgetry, it is in the school playground where pupils get the greatest opportunities to be active.

Ideally, pupils need an hour of exercise every day and there are various ways schools can encourage participation, such as through the installation of playground markings for sports like football, netball, tennis and basketball or for stepping games like hopscotch. Playing on climbing equipment is also an enjoyable exercise and excellent for developing physical strength and overall fitness. Enabling children to get involved in these activities during break times, lunchtimes and PE can help increase the fitness that is associated with increased academic achievement.

Problem-solving – a transferable skill

The PHE study also pointed out how the development of problem-solving skills also contributes to pupil progress. A well-equipped playground has the potential to be one of the best resources a school has for giving pupils problems to solve and for providing the freedom to explore solutions and develop those essential skills.

One example of how this can be done is with a traversing wall. While children naturally enjoy the challenge of climbing and getting from one end to the other without falling off, success only comes after they have solved the problems they face. What’s the best way to hold on? How do I get across a wide gap? What’s the best route from start to finish? Similar problem-solving skills are required when using a wide range of different playground apparatus, whether it's figuring out how to stop a sandcastle collapsing, how to complete a Trim Trail obstacle course, how to complete a Tangled rope challenge or even how to sail a pirate ship during role play. Of course, once these skills are developed, they can be transferred to the classroom to aid children in their learning.

Better classroom behaviour

If five minutes of every one hour lesson is wasted through poor behaviour or lack of attention, then between reception and year 6 or between year 7 and year 13, pupils will miss out on the equivalent of 22 weeks of learning – over half an academic year. As any teacher who has undertaken intervention work with borderline children will know, those 22 weeks are invaluable when it comes to getting children to the level needed to achieve or exceed their targets. Improving classroom behaviour is, therefore, one way to help pupils make progress.

Indeed, the link between physical activity and improved, whole-school behaviour is a key point raised in the PHE study. Its findings show that taking part improves both relationships between pupils and their social behaviour. This, in turn, reduces classroom disruption and increases the amount of time that students have to learn and progress.

Again, the opportunities to participate in physical activity lie mainly in the playground where children can participate at intervals throughout the day: before school commences, at break and at lunch. The challenge is in motivating pupils to take part, but with the right climbing, sports or roleplay equipment available for them, they are much more likely to become active.

Conclusion

All schools want their pupils to make excellent progress, indeed their futures may depend upon it. Progress is also one of the key metrics through which judgements are made, both for the school as a whole and for the individuals who work within it. What the PHE study reveals is that there is a direct link between outdoor play and academic progress which comes from increased physical activity, problem-solving and improved behaviour. For pupils to benefit, however, schools need to make sure that playgrounds offer the opportunities to participate and the equipment that will motivate them to do so.

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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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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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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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