How Outdoor Play Helps Children with ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a behavioural disorder in which children display high levels of hyperactivity, inattention and impulsiveness. It’s quite a common disorder which affects, depending on which diagnostic method is used, up to 7% of UK children. ADHD can have a significant impact on sufferers, disrupting their learning and affecting their behaviour. Their behaviour can also disrupt the learning of others.

While coping with ADHD can be a challenge for both the child and the teacher, outdoor play has been shown to help, giving the child a break from studying, enabling them to socialise with friends and allowing them to let off steam by being physically active. Here, we’ll look in more detail at the benefits of outdoor play for children with ADHD.

Stops children feeling isolated and stigmatised

The tell-tale signs of ADHD are most noticeable in the classroom where quiet and stillness are often required to get on with work. Those with ADHD will be aware that their behaviour is different to others and this can make them feel like an outsider. The problem is exacerbated when everyone else becomes aware that their behaviour is different too. Regular reminders or telling off from the teacher, complaints from other pupils or constantly being withdrawn from lessons to work with the TA can make the child feel both isolated and stigmatised.

In the playground, where there is no need to be still and quiet, the differences in behaviour are less noticeable and important. This enables children with ADHD to feel more at ease in their surroundings and take part in social activities, lessening their isolation and helping combat feelings of stigmatisation.

The other key advantage is that children with ADHD can often take part in structured outdoor games better than they can in structured lessons. Because they can move around and display their hyperactivities while taking part in games, they can improve self-discipline and focus; skills which can be used elsewhere in their lives, including in the classroom.

A release for pent-up energy

Most children find it difficult to maintain long periods of classroom study without becoming restless. For those with ADHD, even sustaining short periods of concentration can be a struggle. To combat this, play has become an important therapy for ADHD, enabling children to be physically active and burn off pent up energy. This makes them feel calmer and better able to cope in classroom environments.

For the most benefit, schools need to offer children with ADHD the opportunity to take part in physically demanding activities, such as playing on climbing frames, taking part in sports or doing activities that involve running and jumping.

Helps children learn better

Taking part in regular, moderate to intense physical activity has been shown to have an important role in developing the cognitive abilities of all children. It can also reduce the symptoms of ADHD, at least temporarily. Regular outdoor play, therefore, is important and can help children with the disorder focus better on their lessons and improve the quality of their learning.

Importantly, this works better when breaks are at scheduled times and are rarely cancelled. As children with ADHD become familiar with the structure of the day, their knowledge that a break is around the corner helps them focus that little bit longer during the lesson. This is one of the reasons why schools should not cancel break times at the first sign of rain and why, if needed, those with ADHD should be offered an extra break if it helps them settle.

Additionally, schools that punish the disruptive behaviour of ADHD students by keeping them in during break times may find this approach worsens the problem rather than rectifying it.

Improves social skills

Besides impeding the academic development of children, ADHD can also affect their ability to develop relationships and acquire social skills. Aside from the feeling of isolation and being stigmatised, those with ADHD are often physically removed from their peers, either working in isolation with the TA or, in some instances, being taught in SEND rooms away from their classmates all together.

Separating children from their peers not only reduces opportunities for them to develop relationships and improve social skills; it can also build boundaries. Both the child with ADHD and their peers thinking of them as ‘different’.

Regular opportunities to take part in unstructured free play provides a more inclusive environment in which those boundaries can be taken down and in which relationships can flourish. Not only will children with ADHD acquire those essential social skills; they will also take them back into the classroom where they can help the children better manage their behaviour. This in turn can lead to fewer incidents of working on their own.

Creating a playground for children with ADHD

Children with ADHD need three things from their playgrounds: the opportunity to take part in active play, the chance to interact with their peers and a touch of calming greenery. Active play can be introduced by installing climbing equipment, such as Trim Trails and play towers, or with playground markings for games and sports, like football. Interaction can be encouraged in many ways, such as through messy or imaginative play as well as through climbing and sports. Adding a touch of nature is easy, too, and can be achieved with nature and garden equipment, like planters, trellises and artificial grass.

Conclusion

ADHD is a common disorder that can have a serious impact on the education of those children who suffer from it. Outdoor play allows those children to release pent up energy so they can focus better in the classroom and, at the same time, removes their feelings of isolation, enabling them to develop relationships and acquire social skills.

For more information about the equipment mentioned here, visit our Products page.

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How Schools Can Help Tackle Mental Health

A recent poll by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has shown that twice as many schools in England, 66%, are having to commission professional support and in-school counselling compared to 2016. Despite mental health being a high priority for the UK government, schools face growing numbers of pupils with mental health issues while support services are increasingly hard to procure. In this post, we’ll look at ways that schools can help tackle mental health in-house.

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A whole-school approach

One of the first ways a school can move forward is to develop a school-wide approach to positive mental health. This includes the mental health of all the community: pupils, staff and parents. Mental wellbeing needs to be embedded not just in the curriculum, but in the entire life of the school, including in classroom practice, rewards and sanctions, play/free-time management and in enabling a work-life balance for all. At the same time, schools should try to encourage behaviours and attitudes that improve wellbeing.

Designated mental health coordinator

Creating a designated role for mental health gives the issue the important status it needs at management level and means that a whole-school approach can be better coordinated. The person in charge will have the authority to implement best practice and procedure as well as to monitor progress and evaluate impact. It also means systems can be centralised, reducing the chance of invisible cases.

A designated coordinator can also be the face of mental wellbeing within the school, being the first point of call, while also supporting staff, parents and pupils. They can also be the representative of the school when liaising with support services or colleagues from other schools.

Mental health training

67% of schools now undertake mental health training for their staff and this is vital to increase awareness of the various types of disorder that pupils may be affected by. It helps teachers to identify signs of mental illness so that those with potential disorders are given speedier help, and it enables teachers to improve classroom practice so that general wellbeing is enhanced and that those with disorders can cope better during the school day.

Training, of course, can be implemented in several ways. Schools can invite professionals in to address the entire staff or individual teachers can attend courses out of school and then feedback to the rest of the staff at a later date. Local clusters may also have support groups who deliver training in your area.

One key area of training is how to deal with a child who is having a mental health crisis. The NAHT survey reported that only 44% of headteachers felt confident their school could deal with such a situation.

Enabling openness

The first step to getting help is telling someone about your mental wellbeing. In schools, there are three hurdles which need addressing to enable this to happen. First of all, children need the language skills to enable them to talk about their problems. They need to know how to express their feelings so that they can tell their friends or their teachers what is happening to them. If a child lacks the ability to articulate how they feel, they may be unable to seek help.

Secondly, schools need to do everything they can to remove the stigma of mental health. This might not be such a major issue for younger children, but as they get older and more self-conscious, fear of other people finding out can make issues worse and prevent help being sought. This is equally true of staff who may also fear that their jobs are at risk if they come forward.

Finally, people need someone to tell. Although the mental health coordinator is perhaps the first port of call for serious concerns, all members of the community should be encouraged to support others, whether it is a friend, a pupil or a colleague.

Fun, outdoor exercise

The school playground can play an important role in improving mental wellbeing. Simply getting outside into the fresh air and away from the classroom is a natural mood-lifter in itself. However, if free time is made fun, it can help with issues of anxiety and depression and counteract the stress which classwork puts children under. That, of course, means equipping your playground with apparatus that will engage pupils in fun activities, whether that’s playing football, roleplay, making mud pies or digging up a sandpit .

Even more beneficial for mental wellbeing is when children are provided with opportunities to engage in physical activity. Sports markings, climbing frames, outdoor gyms, etc. all help children to take part in moderate or strenuous activities which have been proven to help prevent serious mental health issues developing and which make it easier for those with existing conditions to cope.

Conclusion

With 12.8% of pupils suffering from a mental health condition and a lack of external help, all schools are under increasing pressure to cope. Hopefully, the ideas mentioned in this post will help your school improve provision for your pupils.

If you are looking to make breaktimes more fun and to encourage more children to participate in physical activity, check out our wide range of playground equipment.

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Practical Solutions for SEND Friendly Playgrounds

Pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) can lose out at school if the outdoor amenities aren't inclusive. Although every school has to provide access to the playground, once outside, SEND pupils can easily become isolated and often have fewer things to to engage them. In this post, we’ll look at some practical solutions that can transform your playground for these children.

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Why outdoor learning and play are so beneficial for SEND pupils

SEND children face more barriers than other children when developing key learning skills. The lack of space indoors can restrict them in classrooms and for some, a crowded and busy classroom can be too unsettling for them to learn. Supporting them with a well-designed and well-equipped outdoor environment means they have more space and, if needed, quieter areas, where they can better take on the challenges that will help them develop and progress.

Regular outdoor play helps SEND pupils to lead happier and healthier lives. It encourages them to try new challenges, take safe risks and make mistakes – all activities that help them become, resilient, confident and independent. At the same time, the less structured nature of the outdoor playground exposes them, in a safe setting, to the unpredictable and all the lessons that teaches.

The importance of playground design for SEND pupils

Design plays a fundamental role in making school playgrounds inclusive for SEND children. One of the main focuses should be on creating discrete zones, each designed to cater for specific kinds of activity. At the same time, you need to develop a layout that enables pupils of all abilities to move easily and safely from one zone to another.

There are many factors to consider when designing such a playground. These include the kinds of equipment you wish to install, where to place the zones so as to encourage play, how to ensure everyone has physical and emotional access, providing enough space for children to play and wheelchairs to manoeuvre and, importantly, making sure the playground is safe.

For those who need quiet spaces, it’s usually a good idea to locate these near the entrance to the playground. This way, less confident children don’t see going outside as a big ordeal and can quickly go back in if they feel uncomfortable.

Aside from the zones and the equipment you use, other important design features of a SEND friendly playground include the type of surfacing you use for each zone and their interconnecting pathways and whether you introduce fences, trellises or planters to screen areas off from each other. These can be installed for safety reasons, to reduce noise, to make areas more private or simply for improving the aesthetic of the environment.

Encouraging physical activity

Although some SEND children will face challenges taking part in certain types of physical activity, all of them should have access to activities that are appropriate for them. Not only do they need this to improve overall fitness and develop skills like coordination and spatial awareness, being unable to take part prevents them benefitting from its important social aspects. Participating in games and sports helps all pupils, including those with SEND, to learn about teamwork, social interaction and following rules. Installing appropriate playground and PE equipment and safe surfacing, like wetpour and artificial grass, can help make physical activity far more inclusive and prevent SEND pupils being isolated from their peers.

Physical activity doesn’t just have to come from structured activities either. Free play on equipment where they can have fun while learning to improve balance and mobility can be just as beneficial and rewarding.

Sensory stimulation and imaginative play

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Sensory activities and imaginative play are important for SEND children’s development and creating a playground that offers an array of these experiences can make a big difference. Many schools opt to create a calming sensory zone, away from the more boisterous areas of the playground, which is built to stimulate a child’s curiosity. These can include things like body warping mirrors, sand and water play, bughouses, planters, outdoor musical instruments and a wide range of other resources to touch, see, smell and hear.

Imaginative play can come in many forms. Imaginative zones can include quiet areas to sit and listen to a story, somewhere to draw, paint or colour, exciting equipment that can inspire role play, such as a sit-on train or wooden shop counter or even themed climbing towers that create magical, made-up worlds with forests and castles.

Getting in touch with nature

A school nature area can bring lots of benefits for all pupils but for SEND pupils who need quiet, calm spaces it can be a haven. Even if you don’t have the luxury of a school garden, you can create a nature area with planters and trellises and encourage wildlife to move in with bug houses, butterfly boxes and bird tables. You can also use the planters, digging pits and growing boxes to engage the pupils in gardening activities and even use investigation tables to learn about the things they discover.

Conclusion

A well designed and equipped school playground, built to meet the needs of SEND pupils, can make your school much more inclusive. SEND pupils will be able to take part in more activities with other students and have specific areas or zones that help them develop and achieve in the most appropriate ways.

For more information visit our Special Needs page.

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6 Key Learning Skills That Can Be Developed by Outdoor Play

As teachers, we know that children who develop key skills such as critical thinking or the ability to work with others, progress quicker, achieve more and attain better grades than their peers. However, with curriculum activities taking up much of the timetable, it’s hard to squeeze in the extra hours needed to practice and hone these skills. Thankfully, this area of learning is not confined to the classroom and with the right outdoor play resources in place, children can develop the skills during free time and in outdoor lessons.

In this post, we’ll look at six key skills that can be developed through outdoor play.

1. Working with others

There will be many times during a student’s school career when working with others will play an essential part in helping them learn. Group work and collaborative learning are key aspects of today’s classroom environment and those children who have the skills to work with other students perform better, learn more and progress quicker.

There are a number of ways you can help students develop these skills in the playground. A Team Adventure Zone, for example, is a trim trail with a difference: it’s an obstacle course designed for children to complete as a team. In order to successfully get from one end to the other, they will need to work together. This is great playground equipment to help students develop their collaborative skills whilst having lots of fun at the same time. It’s a good resource for developing critical thinking, too.

2. Creative thinking

When it comes to getting children thinking creatively it is often better to give them unstructured time in a safe environment where they have the freedom to think outside of the box. To do it right, you also need to provide the resources to motivate them and there is a lot of playground equipment that does just that.

There’s opportunity for drawing with our outdoor art and design boards or making music with our fabulous range of fixed, outdoor musical instruments. For the more dramatically minded, we’ve also got a range stages where children can rehearse and perform to fellow students. All these can be used to inspire children to engage in and develop creative thinking during break times or as part of an outdoor lesson.

3. Being personally effective

The term ‘being personally effective’ encompasses a range of skills which are useful for helping children have a more mature attitude towards learning – the ability to set goals, take on challenges, divide larger projects into smaller steps, be resilient and experience achievement.

Once again, there are a lot of these skills which can be developed through outdoor play and, with some clever playground planning from the school, these opportunities can be given. For example, climbing and traversing walls built over safe playground flooring, give children the chance to set themselves new goals and challenges. To meet those challenges, they will need to break the larger climb down into smaller steps and they’ll need to develop resilience before they finally succeed. The same skills can be learned on a whole range of kids’ climbing equipment.

4. Communication skills

Developing good communication skills is vital for a successful learning journey and needs to start at a very young age. One of the best ways to get the process started is through roleplay where children can experiment with communicating in a range imagined scenarios.

Children are good at inventing roleplay but it works best when they are provided with the props and set that can be the inspiration for their made-up worlds. Here at ESP Play, we have a wide selection of roleplay playground equipment to prompt every child into action. These include stages, storytelling chairs, play huts, bridges, a carriage and even a wooden train.  

5. Maths

Maths is an essential key skill that children will continue to work on throughout their school years but many children do struggle. Sometimes it can be helpful to learn in a more playful way, outside of the classroom.

One of the best ways to provide this opportunity is to install outdoor maths equipment in your playground. There is equipment which can be used for teacher-led outdoor lessons covering everything from simple number work to tessellation. There are also many fun maths games like battle boards, dominoes and Soma cubes that children can use during break times.

6. English

Just like maths, English is another vital key skill and there is also a selection of outdoor English resources which encourage children to continue their learning beyond lesson times. Covering handwriting and creative writing, these can be used to let children write for fun during free time or can be used for group, paired and individual work during lessons.

Conclusion

Key skills remove many of the barriers to learning faced by children and developing them can help pupils succeed across the entire curriculum. However, not all these skills need to be taught and practiced in the classroom. Using our school playground equipment, you can encourage pupils to learn organically, through play and whilst having fun.

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Another teacher joins the ESP Play team…

We have added another teacher to our education team to help continue to strengthen the educational benefits Play and Physical Activity can bring to schools.

Here’s what Rob Whitelock had to say about why he joined ESP Play:

I am passionate about learning – 18 years in the classroom plays testimony to that and having worked closely with key protagonists in the play and sport movement, I’m equally passionate about how play and sport can help the progress and achievement of every child.  I’ve seen it – it can – it does!  I want to use every opportunity to share my experience with schools so they are best placed to enjoy the benefits play and sport can bring to all children.

Every school has a duty of care to every one of its children. With safeguarding at the top of the OFSTED agenda, schools need to be sure they are providing the best opportunities for their children in a safe and secure setting. The School Sport Premium gives every school the chance to invest in the well-being of its children but is it being used effectively? OFSTED will make a judgement on a schools use of its SSP so is it worth leaving it to chance? Many schools ‘buy in’ specialist support to deliver physical activity, which is great while the SSP is in place but expensive and not sustainable when the funding ends. Many schools don’t realise the most effective, most sustainable investment is in its own staff and most importantly, its own children. Furthermore, how can schools guarantee SSP spending reaches every child?  While a focus on traditional, competitive sport might suit some children, does it suit all? Sport is not a ‘one size fits all’ offer. It needs diversity to be totally inclusive. It needs innovation to reach every child. It needs to offer something to everyone at every level.

Done well, sport and play can engage the most difficult to reach child, raise self-confidence, raise self-esteem and raise attainment. Done well, sport and play dissolves stereotypical boundaries and becomes limitless. Done well sport and play can be fun!

Our work, in collaboration with the NHS is backed up by independent research from Leeds Metropolitan University, which concludes:

  • Independent observers: an increase in INDIVIDUALS’ physical activity (plus increases in staff supervising the space.
  • Teacher observers: more (%) children are more active (boys AND girls)
  • Reduced % of lightly engaged pupils
  • A wide range of benefits for pupil involvement – developmental and curricular, individual and systemic
  • Playgrounds seen as more positive environments for all members of the school community
  • As well as sustaining already active children, what equivalent investments will benefit an additional four children in every class of 28 (and in so many diffuse ways)?

I have joined the passionate team at ESP Play to share and promote best practice in schools and help schools make best use of their limited capacity.

 

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