Children’s Wellbeing: Playground Therapy For Schoolkids

Children's wellbeing

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.

Conclusion

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.

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Playground Shade – 7 Tips To Keep Kids Safe in the Sun

keepig children safe in the sun

Summer is here, the temperature is rising and everyone wants to get out into the playground. While this is great for our wellbeing and vitamin D levels, there are times when the heat can be overbearing and the UV levels too high for young skin. So, aside from sunscreen and hats, how do we ensure the kids can get outside, stay cool and get some shade? Here are some tips to help.

1. Clever playground design

How hot a playground becomes depends upon where the light comes from at the warmest parts of the day. Clever playground design can take this into consideration, using existing buildings, trees and hedges to create play zones that provide shelter from the brightest sun. Zones can also be placed away from sun traps where a lack of air flow prevents a cooling breeze from moderating the temperature. This is particularly important for areas where physical activities take place, such as playing on climbing frames or taking part in team games.

2. Change surfacing colour

Traditional playground surfacing, like asphalt, tends to be black, a colour that rather than reflecting light, absorbs it. Studies in the US have discovered that in playgrounds where the outdoor temperature reaches over 30 degrees, the surface of the asphalt exceeded 50 degrees. That heat gets released back into the air and can make playground temperatures unbearable, especially if there is no breeze.

Today, however, there is a whole variety of different playground surfacing available and most of these come in a range of different colours. Choosing a lighter colour for sun trap areas can help regulate air temperature on hot days.

3. Add greenery

Using trellises and planters to add some greenery to a playground can also help moderate temperatures. By adding a touch of nature, you create a microclimate in your playground. Not only do living walls, climbers and plants provide shade to people, they stop surfaces getting hot and warming up the air in the playground. In addition, plants also go through the process of evapotranspiration, where water is released and then evaporated into the microclimate to keep it cooler. Adding greenery to school walls helps keep both the playground and the school cooler during the hot summer months.

4. Water play

There’s nothing better when you’re feeling hot than to stick your hands into cold water. It has an instant cooling and refreshing effect. Having water in the playground also helps keep the area cooler as it absorbs heat from the air and cools through evaporation.

The great thing about water play is that it’s fun and kids just love to do it. Thankfully, there are quite a few ways to introduce this into your playground, such as sand and water play and magnetic water walls. If you have a nature area, you can also add a water feature.

5. Pergolas

A pergola is a great way to add shade that lets some of the sunlight through. With planters, you can grow climbers up the side and across the beams to create a beautifully dappled area for children to cool off in. There are now pergolas specially designed for schools, large enough to accommodate whole groups of pupils, some with planters or shaded covers built in. There are even large pergolas that come with seating and decked floors.

6. Sail shades

Sail shades are a great way to protect children from the sun during summer and give shelter from the rain for the rest of the year. Cost-effective for what they achieve, many schools have incorporated them into their playground designs. With the largest sail shades covering up to 64 square metres, they offer protection for lots of children while enabling them to keep playing.

7. Shelters

Perfect for both outdoor lessons and shaded play, the latest playground shelters come in a range of sizes and designs from small play huts to large octagonal shelters that accommodate a whole class of children. What’s more, they provide a range of features to suit the needs of different schools. From simple shelters with just a roof, to more sophisticated versions with decked floors, side walls and built-in seating. A great place to keep children protected from the sun on hot days and somewhere to keep a little bit warmer and drier during autumn and winter.

Conclusion

Keeping children cool and protected from UV is important during the hottest days of the school year. Hopefully, these tips have shown you that there are plenty of ways you can make your playground environment more comfortable and safer for your pupils.

For more information, visit our Products page.

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How to Reduce Playground Injuries and Legal Claims

reduce playground injury

As many headteachers will now be aware, the ‘had an accident at work?’ claims culture has now spread to schools, with no-win-no-fee legal firms encouraging parents to sue for accidents on school premises or during trips. To help reduce the potential for accidents in the playground and to mitigate the risk of a legal claim, here are some tips that schools may find helpful.

Get playground equipment annually inspected

Failure to maintain playground equipment or ensure that it is fit for use can lead to accidents and result in a negligence claim. Indeed, it is one of the first things a lawyer will seek to find out. For this reason, schools should undertake a full inspection of all their playground equipment annually. This should be carried out by a fully qualified RPII inspector who can ensure the playground complies with BS EN1176.

The inspector will also provide the school with a written report, which can be used as evidence that an appropriate inspection has taken place. This report details the inspection findings for each piece of playground apparatus and gives details of any maintenance work or repairs required to make it comply with BSEN1176. When you use ESP Play Annual Playground Inspection Services to undertake your inspections, you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing we are a highly experienced manufacturer and installer of playground equipment.

Use the right playground surfacing

There is a range of different playground surfaces available today. While all of them have their uses, which type you need depends upon who is using them, what they are used for and the type of ground and drainage you are laying them on. Getting the right surfacing in place can vastly reduce the chance of injury and legal claims.

The right surfacing can cut injuries in many ways. Softer surfacing, such as rubber mulch or wetpour, is ideal for putting under climbing frames; artificial grass acts much like real grass but with the added advantage that it doesn’t turn to slippery mud in the rain; resin-bound gravel, meanwhile, is more hardwearing than asphalt and less susceptible to developing potholes.

Choose well-made, high-quality playground equipment

Choosing better made, higher-quality school playground equipment can bring many benefits. For a start, the children will appreciate it more if they have better things to play on. They’ll also get more benefit from playing on it, whether that’s increased physical activity, improved social and physical skills or greater enjoyment.

In addition, the equipment will be safer to use, last longer and be more robust – all important for keeping accidents to a minimum and reducing the chance of someone making a legal claim.

Make sure pupils are always supervised

While accidents can occur whether a playground is supervised or not, should a parent make a claim, they have an increased chance of being successful if their child was left unsupervised at the time. This is because supervisors can prevent accidents if they see children behaving in a way that could result in injury – though sometimes things happen so quickly, this is not always possible. Just as importantly, a supervisor can react quickly if an accident takes place. The quicker they react, the less chance that an injury will be serious or that others could get injured too.

Generally, schools are excellent at providing playground supervision, however, when this relies on teaching and support staff, those people aren’t always able to get to their allocated areas before the children. Putting senior leaders and staff who are free before break times on the rota can help ensure there is always someone there on time.

Display safety signs in the playground

Schools are very good at putting up safety signs around the building, reminding children which side of the corridor to walk on and not to run, etc. You can also do this to promote safer behaviour in your playground. You can put up signs to limit the number of children on climbing apparatus, to control the direction of movement, to keep ball games away from windows, to stop children climbing on walls and anything else you deem important.

Displaying signs in the playground and on individual items of equipment is a clear indication and constant reminder that certain behaviours are not allowed and most children will behave as directed. It will also remind supervisors to intervene when they see the displayed rules being broken. From a claims perspective, a parent might be less inclined to make a claim if the accident is the result of the child breaking a rule which was clearly displayed.

Conclusion

Thankfully, legal claims against schools are still few and far between. That said, kids being kids, there is always going to be some risk of an injury, whether that’s a scrape, a bruise or a bump or something worse, like a broken limb. Hopefully, the advice given here will help your school reduce the potential for injury in the playground and minimise the chance of a legal claim.

For more information about our wide range of playground equipment, surfaces and inspection service, visit our Products and Services page.

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Outdoor Learning – Teaching Creative Arts in the Playground

outdoor creative arts

The school playground is the ideal place for delivering the creative curriculum. Away from the confines of the classroom, the openness of the playground gives children the freedom and space to unleash their creativity and explore their inventiveness. But how, as teachers, do you facilitate learning in the outdoor space? Here, we’ll look at some of the exciting activities children can participate in in the playground and the types of equipment, now available, that help children develop creative skills outdoors.

Getting musical

Everywhere you go you’ll hear music. It’s an integral part of all our lives and is supported by a huge, varied and very successful industry in which there is a multitude of career options. Despite its popularity, few pupils ever end up taking music it at GCSE and beyond and so miss out on those exciting careers. One of the reasons for this is that there is a lack of opportunity to learn the skills and explore musical creativity.

One way to overcome this is to make musical instruments accessible in the playground for use during outdoor music lessons and during free time. This, of course, is difficult, as instruments are expensive pieces of equipment, kids are likely to damage them and there’s little in reserve to buy replacements.

Instead of handing out what’s left of your dwindling string and wood sections in the hope that they’ll come back in one piece, a far better option is to install purpose-built outdoor percussion instruments that are designed to be banged around by kids and are made to live outdoors.

When it comes to creativity, our outdoor musical instruments give younger pupils the chance to experiment with sound and rhythm, make up tunes, practice skills and work in an ensemble. And with drainpipe drums, xylophones, chimes, washboards and more to choose from, you’ll find these instruments are excellent for children of all interests and abilities.

Artful adventures

The playground is undoubtedly one of the best places to deliver the art curriculum. With people, landscapes, nature and architecture to inspire creative ideas and the movement of natural light to provide a range of different moods, it adds a gamut of opportunities not available in the classroom.

That said, it’s difficult to practice technical skills, work with new media or explore different art forms without the right equipment. Coming up with a masterpiece isn’t easy when you’re sat on a soggy bit of grass trying to stop the sheet of paper from being blown off the backing board. It’s a shared experience that most adults will have of their school days.

Luckily for today’s young learners, this no longer has to be the case. At ESP Play, we have developed outdoor art equipment that helps teachers deliver the curriculum and which enables children to learn effectively, whether they are in lessons or just enjoying being creative during their free time. This includes chalkboards, painting stations and whiteboards which are either free-standing, tabletop or are incorporated into specially designed picnic tables. For those who are interested in exploring alternative media, there’s even a textile weaving board.

Playground performances

Drama is a vital subject in schools, not just for developing creative skills but for building confidence and improving communication. It also plays a valuable role in the teaching of English and PHCSE, helping children explore characters, themes and plot, as well as the real-life situations and feelings that children will need to deal with as they grow older.

Most children like to act, especially when it's improvised roleplay and they can use their creativity to make up their own characters, situations and worlds. This is made easier for them when they are given the right stimulus to invent. ESP Play’s range of imaginative outdoor equipment is designed to do exactly this, offering a range of inspirational apparatus, such as trains, pirate boats, carriages, wooden bridges, tunnels and shop kiosks that are ripe for improvisation.

For more formal performances, we also have a range of outdoor stages which come in different shapes, sizes and designs to suit different playground settings. These are ideal for outdoor drama lessons, rehearsals and performances, as well as for children to create their own plays and dance routines during their free time.

Conclusion

Creativity should never be underestimated in schools – it is, after all, the highest level of skill according to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Fostering a love of the creative subjects helps children acquire skills that are transferable across the curriculum, making them creative thinkers as well as accomplished artists, musicians and performers. Enabling creativity, however, requires children to have greater freedom and the space to explore, which is why the playground is the ideal place to deliver the arts curriculum. And with the right equipment in place, anything is possible.

For more information about our range of creative playground equipment, visit our Products page.

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5 Outdoor Imaginative Play Ideas For EYFS

EYFS Imaginative play equipment

The ability of imaginative play to support children’s cognitive development makes it an essential ingredient of EYFS. It enables children to explore, discover and make connections and helps them develop critical language and thinking skills. The great news for EYFS teachers is that there are many great ways to introduce imaginative play into the playground. Here we’ll look at five of the best.

The playground is the perfect environment for imaginative play. Outdoors, children are allowed to run, climb, make noise, get messy, put their hands on things and get stuck in. And with more space and fewer restrictions, they are freer to unleash their imaginations and benefit more from their play. This is especially true when there is a variety of imaginative play options for them to choose from. Hopefully, the ones we mention below will give you an idea of how to create a more imaginative environment for your EYFS pupils.

1. A world of pretend

Young children love roleplay and pretend play and they are naturally inclined to get involved. Here, they’ll use their imaginations to invent new worlds, play different characters and act out endless scenarios, all of which help them to understand the world they live in. They’ll explore situations, feelings and relationships, discover new ways to interact, finding out more about themselves as they do so.

The best way to encourage roleplay and pretend play is to provide a range of opportunities for children to imagine being someone, something or somewhere else. The easiest way is to provide improvisation stimuli, like props and costumes. However, you can take this to a completely new level by introducing imaginative play products like pirate ships, wigwams, bridges, tunnels, play huts and trains. Outdoor play equipment of this kind can transport children’s imaginations to a world of new experiences while speeding up their cognitive development.

2. Action adventure

While there is purpose-built apparatus to stimulate pretend play, feedback from our customers has shown that a lot of our active play equipment is also used for imaginative play. As a result, we’ve incorporated some imaginative elements into our active play equipment. Our Tangled, rope playing equipment, for example, is inspired by giant spiders and spiders’ webs, our castle play towers are inspired by medieval castles and our Wild Wood collection has seen new additions that incorporate tree and leaf designs and wobbly seats.

3. Glorious mud

Okay, real mud might be a bit too messy for EYFS environments, but messy play, in general, is excellent for developing imaginations. It’s fun, it's tangible, it's hands-on and it's great for developing sensory perception, problem-solving and decision-making skills. From traditional activities like sandpits and mud kitchens to more modern innovations, like magnetic water walls and splash trays, there are opportunities to learn about physical properties, make decisions about how to make things and solve problems when those sandcastles don’t turn out just right.

4. Sound and music

Imaginative play that involves sound and music is great for developing sensory skills, helping children to differentiate different sounds and patterns. There are lots of ways you can introduce sound making into the playground: tins and plastic containers partially filled with rice or dried peas, bendy tubes that whistle when you whirl them, gongs, cymbals and bells, speaking cones made from rolled-up sheets of paper and so forth.

Alternatively, you can install outdoor musical instruments specially designed for heavy use in EYFS playgrounds. Purpose-built to inspire the imaginations of young ones, they include drainpipe drums and drum tables, xylophones, washboards and chimes. Together, they provide a range of different percussion instruments which, as they don’t need specific musical skills to play, enable children to explore sound and music independently, with friends or in teacher-led activities.

5. Fantasy and fiction

Nothing opens up young imaginations more than listening to a good story – whether it's read to them by a teacher or told to them by a classmate. It takes their minds to places they have never previously imagined and in doing so, expands their own imaginations and helps them create stories of their own.

How do you create the perfect storytelling environment? At ESP, we’ve come up with a solution that we think is the perfect fantasy setting for listening to fiction: a circle of toadstool designed chairs with a large, wooden fairy tale inspired storytelling chair taking centre stage. Gathering around to listen will be like stepping into a magic world. And, of course, anyone can take that seat and tell their wonderful stories.

Conclusion

EYFS children learn through play and imaginative play is one of the best ways to develop those all-important cognitive skills. To facilitate this effectively, schools and nurseries need to provide resources and equipment that encourage children to take part and inspire them to fire up their imaginations. Hopefully, the suggestions we have made here will give you ideas for your own playground.

For more information and to see our range of products, visit our Imaginative Play page.

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