The Role of the School Playground in Tackling Climate Change

Climate change is the burning issue of the moment – and rightly so. The impact of human activity on the planet is leading to disastrous consequences for all life forms, including our own. Unfortunately, it is our children and their children who are going to suffer the worst of these effects and if we want to reverse the situation, then we urgently need children to learn about what the causes are and how they can bring around change.

That learning starts in school and one of the best places for it to happen is in the playground. Playing outdoors is vital if children are to start understanding the environment and how to take care of it. Outdoor play encourages children to develop a love and an appreciation of nature, something they seldom get the chance to in today’s screen-obsessed world.

Climate change is already having a devastating impact on young lives. Respiratory infections, due to polluted air and water, are estimated to take the lives of two million under-fives each year. The effects upon weather mean that we are seeing more storms and flooding in some areas and worsening droughts in others. These cause large scale devastation, sometimes with hundreds of thousands of people being made homeless and lacking basic essentials like food, water or shelter, which in turn lead to famine, disease and long-term poverty.

In order to improve the climate, we need to make drastic changes. Although the UK may have committed to being carbon neutral by 2050, this will have no significant impact if the rest of the world doesn’t follow suit. The key to success lies in changing attitudes to climate change and here, society has a critical role to play by exposing children to the wonders of being outside.

Unfortunately, there’s plenty of research to show that this is not the case. When away from school, children are increasingly confined indoors and don’t get the opportunity to enjoy unstructured play. There are many reasons for this: fear over the child’s safety, parents too busy working, too much homework, not enough local places to play, the attraction of the internet. While the causes are many, the result is that children begin to see the outdoor world as alien. Unlike their parents did, they don’t go out to play. They don’t climb trees, throw sticks, collect conkers, roll down hills, explore woods and streams or do anything much that links them to nature. The fear is that this lack of connection with the outdoors will make them even less environmentally friendly than the generations that have gone before.

The onus, therefore, is on schools to make up for what society is failing to provide. Thankfully, there is a great deal that schools can do, on a daily basis, to get children learning and playing outdoors.

early years outdoor play

To foster the sheer enjoyment of being outside, break and lunchtimes are best left for unstructured play and there are some fantastic pieces of outdoor playground equipment that can be used to encourage involvement. From sports and games markings to climbing frames and obstacle courses, these are great for encouraging children to have fun in the open air.

It’s not just during breaktimes, however, when the playground can play a part. Many schools are now developing their own outdoor classrooms and there is a wide range of outdoor resources available for all curriculum areas. Indeed, the outdoor learning space has a lot to offer, especially when doing active lessons or work that requires observation of the natural world, such as art, geography and science.

In addition, there has been a big increase in the number of schools providing access to nature areas. More schools are developing on-site ‘forest school’ environments, often using pre-existing grassed or garden areas of the premises. These are then added to with shrubs and trees, trellises, planters, water features, bug houses and bird feeders to give children more experience of the local flora and fauna. Nature areas are extremely popular with children who are not only fascinated with the plants and creatures but who find them peaceful havens in which to get some much-needed time out during the busy school day.

Some schools have begun to start other climate-friendly activities. One which is very popular is the ‘Walk to School Day’, which aims to get children more active and reduce pollution outside the school gates. Run once a week, these often include walking chains where children and parents will pick up classmates on-route so that no-one is left walking alone. Just imagine how much pollution could be cut If every school did this?

Taking part in such initiatives is useful in getting children and their parents to think about the environment and how they can make a positive impact. In doing so, you encourage them to develop a more caring attitude and take ownership of their actions.

early years outdoor play markings

Summing up

The future of the planet lies in the hands of today’s youngsters. If we are to prevent climate change having a catastrophic impact, not only do we need to teach them about how to make the world a better place, we also need to foster the desire to care for it. You can’t do this without giving them access to the outdoors. Only by being outdoors will they develop a sense of awe and wonder at nature. As a school, you have the opportunity to make this happen.

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6 Ways Preschool Children Benefit from Outdoor Play

According to the gov.uk website, one in five children are overweight or obese by the time they start reception class and this rises to one in three by the end of primary school. For many children, this is due not only to poor diet and a lack of exercise but also because they lack enthusiasm for physical activity. Challenging this early, before they start school, can bring a number of important benefits and in this post, we’ll look at what they are.

1. Outdoor play improves fitness

Even at such a young age, outdoor play can have a positive impact on a child’s fitness. Indeed, it is as important at this age as it is at any other. Though most preschool children will be happy running around having fun in the playground, providing them with equipment that allows them to increase their activity levels and which requires them to use their strength can improve fitness even more. Good examples include climbing equipment, which is great for developing strength and sports markings which can encourage aerobic activity.

2. Makes exercise enjoyable

Giving children the opportunity to participate in active play is a great way for them to discover the joy of exercise. Unlike PE, which is imposed upon children and can often put them off taking part, free play on outdoor play equipment can engender a passion for activity. This can help change attitudes to sport and physical activity over the long-term, setting up the child for a healthy lifestyle in the future.

Equipment such as Trim Trail obstacle courses and play towers are great fun to play on and perfect for active role play.

3. Improves balance and coordination

Balance and coordination are two key physical skills which children will rely on as they move into primary school. There are some exceptionally good pieces of playground equipment that can be used to motivate children to take part in activities that help bring these skills along. In particular, our Free Flow and Tangled apparatus all provide exciting ways for children to practice balancing and to coordinate different parts of the body as they play.

4. Maintaining a healthy weight

One of the advantages of outdoor play is that children get to burn off calories while they are being active. While diet certainly plays a part in obesity, the reason so many people are overweight is that we consume more calories than we use. Even children with a healthy diet can become overweight if they do not exercise enough.

To ensure that children burn more of the calories they eat, it is recommended that they do 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Providing stimulating outdoor equipment that gets them running, jumping, swinging and climbing can contribute significantly to that 60-minute goal and, in doing so, help them maintain a healthy weight.

5. Develop social skills

It’s not just a child’s physical development that is improved by taking part in active outdoor play. Studies have shown that it is also an excellent way to help children develop their social skills. When playing in groups, children are placed into situations where they have to communicate and work together and this helps to start the development of skills they will rely on later in life.

A clever selection of the right playground equipment can help preschool children learn to turn take, negotiate, encourage and support one and other. Imaginative, sports and role play equipment are all useful in different ways and a combination of these can have a significant impact in accelerating the early development of these skills.

6. Develop confidence, resilience and independence

One of the great things about active free play is that it gives children the opportunity to do things for themselves. Given the right types of equipment, this can help children become more independent, confident and resilient.

Equipment such as Trim Trails and climbing frames are excellent for this as they present challenges that, when successfully completed, make children feel confident about their abilities. And by overcoming minor setbacks, such as not being able to conquer an obstacle first time, they develop resilience.

In addition, these types of equipment help foster independence. Children choose the pathway across the Trim Trail or climbing frame that is best for them and to do this, they have to make their own, independent decisions about which apparatus to play on, which route they will take and how to tackle the challenges it throws.

Conclusion

Active outdoor play has lots of benefits for preschool children, especially when appropriate play equipment is provided. It benefits their physical health, improving fitness, developing balance and coordination, maintaining healthy body weight and creating a positive attitude towards physical exercise. In addition, it helps the development of social skills as well as bringing on increased confidence, resilience and independence.

If you are looking to improve your preschool playground, check out our range of products or look at our free playground design service.

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How School Playgrounds Can Improve Pupil Wellbeing

The crisis in child mental health is a major concern. According to the former president of the NEU, Louise Regan, ‘Teachers are overwhelmed by the sheer number of students showing signs of mental health problems.’ Indeed, at 400,000 a year, the number of children being referred for mental health treatment is staggering. But what can schools do to help combat this rise in mental health issues? Surprisingly, making changes to your playground can have a significant impact. In this post, we’ll look at how changing your playground can help your students’ wellbeing.

The benefits of just being outside

One simple way to improve wellbeing is to make sure pupils get outside where they naturally feel freer. Getting them outdoors frequently, even for short periods, can help stop stress levels building up and make it easier for pupils to manage the day without feeling overwhelmed.

Going outdoors also exposes the children to sunlight which, even in cloudy conditions, helps their bodies create vitamin D. This essential substance is known to help with the production of the hormone serotonin, which can reduce stress and anxiety and improve the feeling of wellbeing.

Many schools are now extending the amount of time pupils spend outside by creating outdoor classrooms. These have become very popular over the last few years and there is now specialist, curriculum-based, outdoor learning equipment available to help schools put these in place.

Promoting positive moods

Wellbeing can be enhanced by improving mood and one of the most effective ways this can be achieved is to encourage students to take part in regular periods of mildly intense physical exercise.

When done over the long term, this improves optimism, making children more enthusiastic and putting them in a more positive mood. The added benefit is that it improves behaviour and, as children can feel very stressed when they get into trouble, the potential for such stressful situations to happen is reduced.

There are various ways schools can encourage pupils to participate in mildly intense physical exercise. One popular initiative is The Daily Mile, which aims to get children running, jogging or walking a mile each day while at school. Equipment such as playground markings is also useful because they provide pupils with the means to take part in a diverse range of aerobic activities, such as football, netball and traditional playground games like hopscotch and skipping.

De-stressing through play

With the Ofsted focus on progress and attainment, it’s no surprise that the pressure put on children to achieve is greater than ever. This has made schools increasingly stressful environments and is likely to be a significant contributor to the rise in child mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, self-harming and eating disorders.

Getting pupils to take part in physical play is an effective way to combat stress. Indeed, the more they participate, the lower their stress levels will become. Independent research has shown that children who are given the opportunity to play on outdoor equipment increase their activity levels by almost 15%. With the wide range of exciting outdoor play equipment available, there’s no end of active fun that pupils can enjoy.

Making happy happen

Ultimately, wellbeing is linked to making children feel good about themselves and there are many ways that this can be achieved in the playground. Take our Trim Trails equipment, for example. These pieces enable you to create exciting obstacle courses, tailor-made for your pupils, that will encourage them to participate in physical activity and leave them feeling truly exhilarated, time and time again.

In addition, there’s the sense of achievement that can come from completing a challenge, such as successfully getting to the end of a traversing wall or managing to complete a circuit of a Free Flow climbing frame. When children set themselves a challenge and then manage to accomplish it, it can leave them feeling uplifted and confident and put them in a very positive mood.

For those children who find the constant business of the classroom and bustle of the playground too much to bear, providing a quiet garden or nature zone can often be the ideal solution. While these are best placed away from the noisy playground, even schools with limited outdoor spaces can use fences, planters and trellises to transform a corner of a playground into a place of calm where children are surrounded by nature and can restore their inner peace.

Conclusion

With schools having to take more responsibility for the mental wellbeing of their students, putting in measures that can reduce stress, improve mood and make children feel better about themselves is crucial. Hopefully, this post will have shown you that the playground is the ideal place to start and that the equipment mentioned here can help you put those measures into place.

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6 Ways Your Pupils Can Benefit from The Daily™

If you’ve been watching ITV recently, you may have seen it’s been showing an advert for The Daily Mile, an initiative which aims to improve the health and fitness of every child by getting them to run, jog, walk or propel their wheelchairs for fifteen minutes, each school day.

If you haven’t seen the ad, check it out now.

As you can see, getting your school to participate in The Daily Mile is a great opportunity. This is why over 7000 UK schools are now participating and new schools are getting involved every day. Indeed, the UK initiative is so popular it's now been adopted in 55 countries across all continents: from Kettering to Kathmandu, children everywhere are being given the chance to improve their physical, social, emotional and mental health and wellbeing.

So, why is The Daily Mile so beneficial and why are so many schools taking the plunge? Here are six ways your school and your pupils can benefit from The Daily Mile.

1. Improves body condition

Just as a good breakfast sets you up for the day, good body fitness during your youth can have benefits long into the future. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. It is good to know then, that doing The Daily Mile can have a positive effect on a child’s body composition. It improves cardiovascular health, makes bones denser and builds muscular strength.

Improving body composition while young can help the body defend itself against things like osteoporosis and heart disease later in life.

2. Helps fight obesity

As primary teachers will know, the National Child Measurement Programme measures the height and weight of pupils in reception and year six to ascertain whether they are at a healthy weight or not. According to their most recent literature, around 10% of reception pupils are very overweight. By year 6, the figure has doubled to 20% and the number of very overweight year 6 pupils has increased year on year.

When children take part in the daily mile, they will be physically active for around 75 minutes every week. That helps them burn more calories and, in doing so, goes some way to helping pupils maintain a healthy weight.

3. Can benefit certain physical health conditions

Regular physical activity has been shown to benefit a number of medical conditions, some of which are common in younger people. For example, those pupils who suffer from asthma or diabetes may find that The Daily Mile helps their condition.

4. Helps the development of physical skills

Developing physical skills is a key part of the EYFS and primary curriculum, so it is helpful to know that getting your pupils to take part in The Daily Mile has been shown to improve gross and fine motor skills as well as overall balance.

5. Improves mental health and wellbeing

GPs refer around 400,000 children a year for mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. At such a young age, not only do these conditions affect their personal lives, but they can also impede their academic progress. This can have a negative effect on their ability to get a place at university or achieve the career they want further down the line.

Regular physical activity, such as The Daily Mile, has been proven to have a positive effect on mental health, increasing happiness and reducing stress. Indeed, it doesn’t just help those with such conditions, it can also reduce the chance of mental health problems happening to others.

6. Understanding the importance of health

The organisers of The Daily Mile have discovered that children who participate become increasingly aware of the need to be healthy and are keener to take responsibility for it.

In a society like ours, where children are bombarded with the temptations of junk food and where a lot of free time is spent glued to a screen, many messages about leading healthy lifestyles don’t have the impact we want them to. If The Daily Mile is helping children to be accountable to themselves for their own health, this can only be a good thing.

Setting up a course suitable for the Daily Mile

If your school playground is 50 yards long, a child will need to run over 35 lengths to complete a mile. That may look like a challenge during week one, but as the weeks progress, simply running from one end to the other, over and over, is not going to keep everyone motivated.

What’s helping many schools, is to create a course suitable for the daily mile using existing pathways and incorporating the use of playground markings. Simple line markings can be used to create a more exciting and less repetitive route around the school that pupils will find more enjoyable to follow. At the same time, you can increase the challenge and the fun by adding a range of fun markings into the course, such as a roadway, twisty lines, hurdle markings, hopscotch steps and roundabouts. If your pathway needs to intertwine, you can even add a zebra crossing.

Of course, if you want to go further, you can also add bridges, Trim Trails obstacles, like jungle bars and balance beams, or even build in one of our modular Free Flow climbing frames. There’s no end to how exciting you can make your Daily Mile.

If you are looking for help creating a course for your school’s Daily Mile, call us on 01282 43 44 45.

'The Daily Mile' name and logo are trademarks of The Daily Mile Foundation, Hawkslease, Chapel Lane, Lyndhurst SO43 7FG (Registered Charity Number 1166911). All rights reserved.

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Healthy Schools Initiatives that Actually Work

Sedentary lifestyles and processed foods are having a huge impact on the nation’s health. 25% of UK children are overweight by the time they start reception and 10% are obese. By the time they leave for secondary school, the number of obese children doubles. This can lead to a lifetime of poor
eating and exercise habits that ultimately have a devastating effect on their health and life expectancy whilst also placing a huge burden on the NHS and social care. In addition, those who do not lead healthy lifestyles are likely to pass on their habits to their own children.

Tackling the UK’s poor eating and exercise habits has been an issue for some time and schools have
been given the challenge of trying to change that. Over the years there has been a succession of
initiatives from changing school menus, banning sweets, crisps and sugary drinks, the Healthy Active
Schools System, the Healthy Schools Awards and more. Schools now run countless programmes
including visiting experts, interactive displays, health orientated PSCHE lessons, cooking lessons for
parents and sporty afterschool activities.

However, according to a recent BBC report, ‘Anti-obesity programmes in schools don’t work’, many
of these initiatives are not having an impact. In a recent study by the University of Birmingham,
researchers set up a typical, school-based healthy lifestyle programme catering for 6 and 7-year- olds
in 26 local primary schools. 30 months later, their results showed that there had been “no significant
reductions in BMI and no improvements in energy expenditure, body fat measurements or activity
levels - compared with those not taking part.”

Why aren’t these initiatives working?

The simple answer is that teaching and doing are two different things. We can teach children and parents how to be healthy, give them opportunities to participate and point them in the direction where they can get exercise and healthy food, but this doesn’t change their habits. In this day and age, the majority of parents already know what’s needed to lead a healthy life. Unfortunately, their circumstances and lifestyle often get in the way.

With many families having two working parents, convenience is often top of the list when it comes to the weekly shopping. You can cook a frozen pizza and chips in the oven in 20 minutes and it can be hard not to when the kids demand tea as soon as you get home from work. Following on from this is price: the cost of the weekly shop has risen significantly while wages have remained static. Families are buying less expensive foods which are often higher in fats, sugars and additives.

And, of course, families live sedentary lifestyles. It's not just that children spend all their time on phones and gadgets: many parents don’t let their kids play out anymore. The last thing parents feel like doing after a busy day at work, making the tea, washing up, getting the uniforms ready and making packed lunches, is to take the family out for some exercise. They are tired, worn out and want nothing more than to put their feet up and watch a boxed set. The kids, meanwhile are left face-timing friends and watching their favourite YouTube stars.

It is little wonder, therefore, that healthy lifestyle initiatives geared simply towards educating are failing to have an impact.

What does work?

Helping children reduce weight is all about maths. If their calorie intake is less than the amount they expend, they’ll lose weight. If it’s more, they’ll put weight on. The best approach, therefore, is to tackle it from both ends. Firstly, by reducing the amount of unhealthy, high calorie, food being consumed, such as fat and sugar, you can reduce the daily calorie intake. This can be achieved through a healthy school menu and stricter rules about packed lunches and snacks.

Secondly, you can increase the number of calories being used by building exercise into the school day. Not only will this help reduce weight in overweight children, it will have a positive impact on all pupils’ physical and mental health and can even improve behaviour and attainment. 

How to introduce physical activity in school

One of the most effective ways to increase physical activity is to give pupils the opportunity to be active whilst they play. Rather than sending children out into a boring old playground with nothing to do, many schools are now investing in outdoor playground equipment that encourages physical play. Indeed, research has shown that using ESP equipment has led to a 19% increase in physical activity.

Creating fun obstacle courses such as a Trim Trail, or installing Free Flow climbing equipment is a great way to encourage participation. You can also install a wide variety of playground markings which can be used for everything from hopscotch to team sports. For children who are more creative, there is a whole range of equipment that can be used for role-play, drama and dance activities.

Physical activity doesn’t just have to be reserved for PE and break times, either. With our wide selection of curriculum-based outdoor classroom equipment, you can now unleash your students from the desk and give them some active learning in the fresh air. At ESP Play, we have resources for every curriculum area, so, no matter what subject you are delivering, if the weather is fine, there’s no excuse to stay sedentary indoors.

Finally, you should consider signing up for The Daily Mile, a new initiative that gets every child in the school jogging (or even walking) at their own pace, for 1 mile every day. It takes just 15 minutes to do, needs no setting up and can be done in school uniform. It’s simple, easy and very effective.  

Conclusion

Whilst educating pupils and parents about healthy lifestyles is important, on its own, it is having little impact on improving physical health or reducing childhood obesity. The biggest impact a school can have, therefore, is to make physical activity a normal part of school life and that means active play, active lessons and increased time for initiatives such as The Daily Mile. This way, not only are you teaching about a healthy lifestyle, you are providing it too.

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