Even before the pandemic, one in ten pupils suffered from a mental health disorder. After 18 months of lockdowns, social distancing and bubble isolations, improving children’s wellbeing has never been so important. However, with children’s mental health services stretched to the limit, schools have little option but to take their own initiatives to help their pupils. Luckily, one of the most important resources at their disposal is right on the doorstep – the school playground. Here, we explain how it can play a vital role in improving wellbeing.
Boosting happy hormones
Children’s feelings of happiness and wellbeing are influenced by the hormone serotonin. For serotonin to be produced in the brain, it needs to be activated by vitamin D. When children get natural daylight on their skin, their bodies produce vitamin D and this, in turn, increases serotonin production.
One of the issues for people in northerly countries, like the UK, is that apart from the summer months, we don’t get access to enough sunlight and so can suffer from vitamin D deficiency. By giving pupils more time in the playground, we can help reduce any deficit and address its effect on wellbeing.
Improve mood with activity
Physical activity has been proven to boost wellbeing and, ideally, children should get an hour of activity every day. This should include, according to the Mental Health Foundation, half an hour of low-intensity, aerobic exercise, four or five times a week – every week. The effects of this are potentially very beneficial. It would help children stay alert, improve behaviour, reduce stress and even make them more enthusiastic to learn. It can also help prevent minor wellbeing issues from developing into long-term mental health conditions.
Schools can help increase physical activity by installing playground equipment that encourages children to participate in aerobic play. Playground markings are affordable and easily installable solutions that do precisely this. By providing pitches and courts for games like football and netball, and markings for a wide range of physical games, like hopscotch, children are more inclined to take part. Research has shown that when outdoor play equipment is introduced into a playground, children’s activity increases by almost 15%.
Take active learning outdoors
Active learning has become very popular over the last decade because it has been shown to increase engagement in lessons and lead to greater attainment. However, it has other benefits too. One of these is to reduce stress. The pressure put on children to succeed has made school increasingly stressful, something that increases even more as they get older. Long-term exposure to stress can have extremely negative effects on health, increasing blood sugar and fat levels, raising blood pressure and making children more susceptible to depression and anxiety.
Active learning, especially when done in an outdoor environment, can help reduce stress. Away from the confines of the classroom and all its connotations, children are both physically and mentally freer. With fresh air, sunshine and more space, they relax more and cope better with the demands of learning.
Schools can make an impact here by creating an outdoor classroom. Indeed, with so much outdoor curriculum equipment available today, this is far easier to achieve in all subject areas.
Tackle depression and anxiety
Children diagnosed with depression and anxiety can benefit greatly from physical activity; indeed, it can be a prescribed element of their treatment. What’s more, it can also prevent these disorders from developing in others.
There are now some excellent pieces of playground equipment designed to be both great fun and physically engaging. These include Trim Trails obstacle courses and Free Flow climbing frames which both present children with exciting physical challenges. When it comes to the PE curriculum, there’s also the outdoor Allgo Gym which provides a range of exercises all using body weight.
The pandemic has had a significant effect on the mental health of our children and if we are to prevent this from becoming a long-term problem, we need to take urgent action to improve their wellbeing. Schools have a lot of potential to make a difference and one way to achieve this is to make play the best therapy.
For more details about our playground equipment, visit our Products page.