Coronavirus and Outdoor Play – Advice for Schools and Nurseries

Coronavirus will be high on every school and nursery agenda at the moment and staff, parents and even children will have concerns about its spread. As providers of playground equipment, we have a specific interest in how Coronavirus can be spread in the playground and have been researching government, NHS and scientific guidance for schools and nurseries. Here is a summary of the most important information we have found.

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Outdoor play is beneficial

Although outdoor play cannot stop you getting Coronavirus, the opportunity to participate in exercise and to increase Vitamin D levels through exposure to sunlight can improve your body’s ability to fight the virus, making it less likely that an infection will become serious. According to Prof Arne Akbar of University College London and president of the British Society for Immunology, exercise increases blood flow and this mobilises white blood cells, enabling them to better ‘seek and destroy’ viruses in the body. Exercise also helps reduce stress, which is another way to boost the immune system - as is increasing our Vitamin D levels which are naturally lower during the winter when there is less sunlight and we don’t go outside as often.

In addition, playing in outdoor spaces gets pupils away from the more densely occupied and heavily trafficked areas of the school or nursery where there is more chance of someone getting infected. Indeed, reducing the length of time children are in these areas decreases the potential for surfaces to get contaminated. Overall, ensuring children can still play outside and take part in physical activities can be a positive step in safeguarding against Coronavirus.

Advice when playing outdoors

According to the UK government, there is currently no reason to stop doing outdoor play and sports as you normally would. However, hand hygiene should be strongly promoted and pupils should wash their hands (or use hand sanitiser) when entering and leaving the school or nursery. This can reduce the potential for outdoor equipment and surfaces getting contaminated and help prevent the virus being brought from the playground back into the building.

Besides hands, it is also important to ensure surfaces remain clean. This includes outdoor play equipment, outdoor classroom resources, playground toys, sports equipment, tables, seats, shelters handrails and door or gate furniture.

Advice from the World Health Organization tells us that Coronavirus can live on surfaces for up to several days. However, this depends on several factors, such as the type of surface, exposure to sunlight, temperature and humidity. In most instances, the amount of coronavirus on a contaminated surface will have decreased substantially after 24 hours and potentially even more on outdoor surfaces.

Dr Jenny Harries, England's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said that Coronavirus will not survive very long outside and that many outdoor events are safe. Although the government’s planned specific advice on cleaning equipment has not yet been published, all outdoor equipment should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected after use, especially objects that are frequently touched by hands.

The government has, however, released information about keeping educational establishments clean in circumstances where staff suspect that there may be a case of Coronavirus – i.e. is someone is showing symptoms. In these situations, the school or nursery must follow ‘current workplace legislation and recommended practice’, cleaning all the surfaces that the individual has come into contact with, using disposable cloths and household detergents. Things needing to be cleaned include any surfaces or objects that are ‘visibly contaminated with bodily fluids’ and any potentially contaminated high-contact areas or items.

However, if a person suspected of having the virus only passes through an area or has spent limited time there, and there are no surfaces visibly contaminated with body fluids, deep cleaning and disinfecting are not (at the time of publication) currently required.

Conclusion

Unless government advice changes, outdoor play, learning and sports should continue to take place in schools and nurseries; indeed there may be benefits to the immune system from doing so. When outdoors, it is advised that pupils should wash or sanitise their hands on exit and return to the main building and that regular cleaning and disinfecting of playground equipment should take place, especially surfaces that come into contact with hands or bodily fluids.

Please note that Coronavirus is a new virus and that guidance and advice may be subject to change as more is learnt about it. For more information read the Gov.uk page Guidance to educational settings about COVID-19.

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Making the Most of Your Playground Design – Ideas to Consider

Is your school or nursery taking full advantage of your outdoor spaces? Does your playground fulfil all the things you want it to? For establishments looking to develop outdoor provision, there are plenty of ways to make improvements. To give you some idea of what it is possible to achieve through playground design, here are some points you may wish to consider.

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Playground design lets you optimise outdoor spaces

Sometimes, it is difficult to visualise the potential you have to transform your outdoor space. Anyone who has watched the BBC TV programme ‘Your Home Made Perfect’ will have seen how the show’s architects used virtual reality to remove all the walls in a house, letting owners see how the entire space could be reimagined. Although you might not have virtual reality technology at hand, starting your playground design by creating a blank plan of your outdoor areas, removing existing features like walls or fences, enables you to see how the entire space could be put to better use.

Even if you require development on a smaller scale, there might still be quirky, unused or forgotten areas that can be given a new lease of life with the right equipment, perhaps installing wonky mirrors onto walls, putting a storytelling circle on a grassy corner or filling an empty recess with a shelter.

Designing an all-weather playground

To get optimum use out of your playground, you want children to be able to enjoy it all year round. The starting point for making this happen is having the right playground surfacing installed. While different uses can require different types of surface, modern surfacing materials like resin-bound gravel, artificial grass, wetpour and rubber mulch are all better suited to wet weather play than puddle-prone asphalt and tarmac and muddy grass. Though even grassed areas can be used in the wet when they have protective grass matting to stop them churning up. By introducing surfaces like these, with excellent drainage, you reduce the chances of slippage and make the playground more inviting to play in, even during a shower.

Of course, there are always children who hate wet weather and days when the rain will be heavy. However, there are still things you can do to make the playground useable. Playground shelters, including some with windbreaking side panels and built-in seating, offer places for the rain-averse to sit in and for everyone else to congregate during a downpour. You can also install sail shades close to the side of the school too, and these will protect against both the rain and the sunshine. Another solution is to install play huts for smaller groups to occupy.

Designing for variety and inclusion

The key to getting the most from your playground is providing variety for your pupils. Today, the solution for achieving this comes through designing a playground with a range of play zones, each providing a different type of activity. Our free playground design service ensures your playground fulfils all the things you want from it. You can create spaces for play, PE and learning while providing inclusive and engaging activities that are fun, healthy and meet the needs of all pupils.

The type of equipment you install depends upon the needs, interests and ages of your students, and we always advocate getting your pupils and parents involved in the decision-making process. Not only does this help you install the equipment the pupils want; it also means you’ll have a more enthusiastic group of fundraisers.

Schools and nurseries have a lot of options when it comes to the types of playground equipment they can install, however, when it comes to zones, the most popular tend to be an area for playing sport and teaching PE, an outdoor classroom, a playground game area (for hopscotch, tag, skipping, etc.) a challenge and risk zone with exciting climbing apparatus, a water and sand messy play area, a creative area (for art, roleplay, music, dance, etc.), a sensory area and a quiet nature area.

Of course, as most schools and nurseries have limited space and budgets, clever design can be used to make some zones multi-purpose. A quiet nature area, for example, can also be used as a storytelling or reading corner and a place to study plants, insects and the weather.

Funding for playground development

Developing a playground can be expensive and often requires schools to apply for funding and to raise funds themselves. However, there are a variety of grants that you may be eligible to apply for and here at ESP Play, we can help you find them. At the same time, Parent Teacher Associations do a terrific job at fundraising and, over the years, we have seen many raise substantial amounts to help transform their school and nursery playgrounds.

Conclusion

Though the playground is one of a school or nursery’s most valuable assets, it is often under-utilised. Careful playground design can help you make the most of it, ensuring optimal use of space, accessible all year round, while providing a broad range of learning and play activities that suit the needs and preferences of your children.

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How to Keep Pupils Safe in the Playground During Winter

The risk of injury in the schoolyard increases dramatically during the winter months when snow, ice and frost create hazardous conditions. Winter weather can make playground surfaces and outdoor play equipment very slippery and cause damage which needs to be quickly repaired. At the same time, children need to learn to behave and dress appropriately for the weather conditions they encounter. In this post, we’ll look at some of the ways to improve safety in the winter playground.

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Watch out for slippery surfaces

Almost all playground surfaces are at risk from ice in one way or another. This even includes some loose-fill surfaces, like wood mulch and loose gravel which can create hard, solid surfaces when insufficient drainage causes them to freeze over. A more effective and long-term solution would be to use rubber mulch which cannot freeze. However, effective drainage is essential for all surfaces to reduce the potential for freezing, so if water isn’t draining away adequately, you may need a more detailed inspection to discover the cause so that it can be rectified.

Ice isn’t just caused by freezing water, it can also be caused by compacted snow. In the playground, this can be particularly hazardous as the more children walk on snow, the icier and more slippery it becomes – especially when the more dare-devil children start turning it into a slide. The best remedy to stop snow being turned into ice is to be proactive and grit the surfaces whenever snow is forecast. This will prevent snow from settling so it cannot be compacted. However, if ice has formed, the safest solution is to stop the surface being used until the ice has melted away. Equipment should also be tested for ice, especially climbing equipment which may need to be taken out of use in icy conditions.

One final thing you should remember is that when water turns to ice, it expands. When this happens between two surfaces, the force the expansion exerts can cause damage or erosion. The tiny gaps in asphalt and tarmac surfaces are particularly vulnerable to this form of erosion and this is why you might see potholes and loose patches of gravel after the thaw. Not only will these become worse with heavy use; they are also potential trip hazards and should be repaired quickly in order to reduce risk and cost. Newer forms of hard surfaces, like resin bound gravel, use resin as protection against freeze-thaw erosion and are therefore safer and more weather-resistant.

Get rid of snow

Although snow feels soft, it should never be considered as an adequate surface to leave under elevated play equipment like climbing frames as its slipperiness increases the risk of injury to those who land on it. Similarly, pupils are more likely to bump into equipment with snow around it or fall off structures that have snow on them. If feasible, snow should be brushed off all equipment and shovelled away from the playground surface underneath. Even once this has happened, the equipment should still be inspected to ensure it is safe enough to use, as residual water can still be a slip hazard. Remember to check things like the ladder rungs, handrails, hanging bars, balance beams, platforms, slides, stepping beams and landing areas. This is particularly important on balancing and climbing equipment where there are no additional handrails.

Managing the children

Pupils can be a hazard to themselves in wintery conditions and it is important that adequate supervision is on-hand at all times, especially around busy areas and elevated apparatus. While snowballing is permitted in some schools, this should never be the case if snow has frozen and become dangerously hard and never near windows (broken glass is almost impossible to find in snow) or near those playing on climbing equipment. Pupils should also be discouraged from running on snow as it not only increases the risk of falling, there are also more chances for collisions to occur.

While pupils should be suitably attired for outdoor play during the poor winter weather, some items of clothing can increase the risk of injury when children are playing on certain types of equipment. Gloves, for example, prevent children from safely gripping jungle bars or traversing walls, while dangling scarves and drawstrings can get caught up in some apparatus.

Finally, to prevent hazards being taken from the playground to the school building, ensure there are mats at the entrances for children to wipe their feet. Wet corridors and staircases can also be very slippery.

Conclusion

As you can see, winter weather can present a number of potential hazards to children in the playground. Hopefully, the suggestions made here will help you ensure your pupils stay safe.

If you are looking for safer surfaces for your outdoor play areas, check out our playground surfacing 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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4 Ways to Tell if Your Playground Needs an Upgrade

All school playgrounds eventually need an upgrade. Years of heavy use and constant exposure to weathering means playground surfacing and equipment will, at some point, need replacing. At the same time, the priorities of schools change with new initiatives requiring outdoor spaces to be redeveloped to suit modern curricula and teaching methods. So, is your playground in need of an upgrade? In this post, we’ll discuss some of the things that will help you answer that question.

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1. Your playground has safety issues

If you have play equipment already installed in your outdoor spaces, you’ll be aware of the need to carry out regular inspections to ensure that everything is safe for your pupils. With daily visual inspections, monthly operational inspections and annual inspections from an independent RPII qualified inspector, schools should have a clear idea of whether existing equipment and surfaces are in good working order and present no risk to their students. If there are issues, however, then they need addressing quickly in order to prevent the potential of pupils coming to harm.

When it comes to health and safety, it is always better to be proactive than reactive. Rather than waiting for a piece of equipment to fail an inspection before replacing it, it is safer to upgrade it when it is getting towards the end of its lifecycle but is still safe to play on. Things to look out for are rusting or fatigued metalwork, broken or cracked plastics, loose fittings, worn, slippery or poor-draining surfaces and decaying timber.

2. Your outdoor equipment is tired and unappealing

Today’s classrooms and corridors are vibrant places designed to create stimulating and engaging learning environments. Children also need to be stimulated and engaged in the playground but this can be hard to achieve when the surfaces and equipment begin to look tired and lose their appeal. When playground markings wear away, sports fields become bare soil and once brightly coloured equipment is now ugly grey steel with odd patches of chipped, sun-bleached paint, such dilapidated outdoor spaces stand in stark contrast to the indoor environment and do little to motivate pupils to play or learn outside. If a playground looks past its best and too few children are making use of it, then it’s time for an upgrade.

3. Health and wellbeing not catered for

Today, improving health and wellbeing is often a primary reason for the decision to upgrade a playground. With 20% of year 6 pupils in 2018-2019 being obese and 12.8% of school-aged pupils suffering from a mental disorder, the UK has some serious health issues to tackle when it comes to young people. While physical exercise alone is not a panacea, it offers many benefits for both physical and mental wellbeing. Regular physical activity can help reduce obesity, prevent the onset of some mental disorders and assist those living with existing disorders to cope better.

Unfortunately, modern lifestyles mean few children get the hour of physical exercise that medical experts say they need every day to stay healthy. Often, the school playground is the only place where such an opportunity exists; though whether they take advantage of it depends to a great extent on the type of playground equipment available to them. Different pupils have different interests and to get them more active you need a range of equipment that will motivate even the most reluctant pupils.

4. No opportunity for outdoor learning

For young children at the beginning of their educational journey, outdoor play is a critical part of the learning process. For this reason, many EYFS providers strive to create playgrounds that offer a seamless transition between the indoor and outdoor areas, enabling learning to flow from one to the other without interruption. Indeed, playground designs that offer the opportunity to combine fun with the pursuit of learning are now highly popular.

The educational benefits of being outdoors, however, have not gone unnoticed by the teachers of older students and, today, outdoor classrooms are much sought after by both primary and secondary schools. While PE has always taken advantage of the school’s outdoor areas, modern playgrounds can now install subject specific equipment that is purposely designed to cover virtually every curriculum area.

Another sign that your school needs a playground upgrade is that it doesn’t provide suitable opportunities for learning. With so much equipment available and indoor space at a premium, it is an opportunity not to be missed, especially as pupils really enjoy learning outdoors.

Conclusion

When deciding if your school playground needs an upgrade, there are four basic questions you may wish to ask. Is your current playground safe for pupils? Does it provide a stimulating environment with fun equipment? Do the playground facilities offer opportunities to improve pupils’ health and wellbeing? Is your outdoor space adequately equipped as a place for learning? If the answer to any of these is no, then it may be time to consider an upgrade.

If you’re looking for inspiration, take a look at our wide range of outdoor play and learning equipment.

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