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.
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.