How Outdoor Play Can Improve Pupils’ Mental Health

The mental health of young people is a serious issue now firmly on everyone’s agenda. Currently, one in ten pupils suffer from a mental health disorder: that’s 27 in the average primary and 94 in the average secondary school. With increasing pressure put on children to perform well in schools and with many of them not leading healthy lifestyles out of school, the problem only looks like it is going to get worse. Add to this the deficiencies in NHS mental health care, falling school budgets and the increasing costs of accessing ed psychs and other professionals and the future looks dire.

There is, however, one area where schools can have a positive impact on the mental health of all their pupils, including those who are already diagnosed with disorders – and that is in the provision of outdoor play equipment. In this post, we’ll look at the positive ways you can use your outdoor environment to help your pupils’ mental health.

Getting them outside is the first step

The first way to improve mental health is to get the pupils outside more. Getting sunlight on your skin, even if it is cloudy, is the human body’s main source of Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps with mental health because it releases serotonin in the brain which improves mood and has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. It can even have a calming effect on children with ADHD.

One way you can extend the time children spend outdoors is to develop an outdoor learning area where lessons can be delivered in the open air. This can be achieved by installing outdoor curriculum playground equipment which is designed to cover most subject areas including maths, English and science.

With a wide range of equipment to choose from and catering for pupils of all key stages, this is a great way to get pupils out of a stressful classroom and into a stimulating environment that will enhance their mental wellbeing.

Improve mood through outdoor play

According to the Mental Health Foundation, the best way to increase positive moods in children is to have them participate in low-intensity, aerobic exercise for 30 minutes a day, three to five days per week. To fully benefit from this, the activity needs to be done over the long term.

Doing this will make children more alert and enthusiastic and help keep more serious mental health issues from developing. Another benefit for schools is that it can improve behaviour in classrooms which, in turn, can lead to improvements in pupils’ progress and attainment.

One way to encourage participation in low-intensity aerobic exercise it to provide pupils with the opportunities to take part. At ESP Play we have a huge range of equipment designed for that very purpose. Our playground markings, for example, give pupils exactly what they need to take part in an array of fast paced team sports and other aerobic activities whilst, for the adventurous kids, we have climbing walls and even Parkour (freerunning) equipment.

Reducing stress

As every teacher knows, poor behaviour disrupts learning and slows the progress of the whole class. This is why behaviour is such a big focus for Ofsted. The Public Health England report explains that “Physical activity has been linked to improved classroom behaviour across the whole school. Notable among the benefits are improved pro-social behaviour and peer relationships, with resulting reductions in disruptive classroom behaviour.”

If the reduction in disruptive behaviour is due to physical activity that improves social relationships, then it makes sense to give pupils more opportunities to do this during their free time. Most outdoor playground equipment is designed to help pupils play together in an active way, whether this is done through climbing equipment, sports equipment or roleplay equipment. Installing these in your play area could have positive benefits on behaviour and progress.

Helping with depression and anxiety

Physical activity is also very helpful for children who have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. It is often prescribed as part of their treatment. One of the things you can do to help these particular students, perhaps as part of their differentiated provision, is to give them increased access to outdoor play or outdoor learning.

Some of the best equipment for doing this would be our Trim Trails. In order to successfully negotiate through the Trim Trail would give students plenty of the physical exercise they need whilst enabling them to gain positive feelings of achievement when they successfully negotiate the trail.

As our Trim Trails have interchangeable components, you can quickly and easily make the course more challenging as time goes by, increasing the amount of physical activity they do and the sense of wellbeing they get at the end.  

For those children suffering from social anxieties or who have problems integrating with other students, installing an outdoor Allgo Gym might be a worthwhile investment. The Centre For Health at John Moores University recently did research on the benefits of outdoor gyms and showed that those who took part with friends felt increasingly more confident after using them.

An added perk

Introducing outdoor play equipment not only helps to prevent and treat mental health problems, it also has a positive impact on every student’s cognitive abilities. In a recent article in the Psychiatric Times, it was shown that pupils who took part in regular physical activity have increased attention spans and can process information quicker than children who do not. Even a single, twenty-minute session of aerobic exercise was seen to make a difference – which, of course, is about the length of the average morning break time.  


It’s amazing to think that so much can be done to help students’ mental health and wellbeing simply by getting them outside and being more active. The key to success lies in providing your pupils with the opportunities to do so and the equipment needed to motivate them. For details of the equipment we can provide for your school, take a look at our products page.

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