How to Improve Social Interaction in the Playground

Finding ways to help children interact more leads to numerous benefits for both the individual child and the school community as a whole. This can be challenging to do in a classroom setting when the time is structured around the curriculum and much of the social interaction is manufactured to meet the aims of the lesson. Truer interactions take place when the children have the freedom to be themselves and, in schools, this most often happens at break times. Here, we’ll look at a number of outdoor activities that can enhance social interaction and help develop social skills.

social interaction

Team sports

Team sports give children lots of opportunities to interact with each other. These include picking the teams, deciding on the positions and choosing which side is the first to start. Each of these activities requires children to negotiate, take on roles and accept the choices of the wider group. When the game starts, interaction continues through the discussion of in-match tactics as well as by giving encouragement to teammates and in the celebration of goals.

One of the important features of team sports is that there are a set of rules which need to be followed. Children taking part quickly become aware of what is not allowed and what constitutes a foul. As these rules are needed for the game to progress smoothly, children develop a social awareness of the need to abide by them.

Sports can also help children with conflict resolution. Minor disputes can arise during a game – was the player really off-side? Who is going to take the penalty? Learning these skills in game situations when there are a fixed set of rules can improve a child’s ability to handle conflict in settings where right and wrong are much more open to question.

Team sports can be exceptionally beneficial for social interaction in the playground and the introduction of a MUGA, that provides a wider range of sports, can be one of the best ways to inspire more pupils to take part.

Roleplay

Young children love role play and when provided with the right equipment, it comes naturally to them. It also plays a pivotal role in child development, helping to bring on many of the skills needed to be proficient at social interaction, such as confidence, communication and problem-solving.

By taking on the role of another person, be that a made-up character, someone from fiction or even someone they know, children act out scenarios that are a practice for the real world and which help them to understand and navigate society better. These made-up situations help them develop important social skills, too: listening, responding, turn-taking, initiating conversation, asking questions. In addition, they become more socially aware, developing empathy, understanding when they’ve upset someone and learning how to resolve problems.

There are many ways to motivate pupils to participate in roleplay. A good way to start is to provide them with plenty of props and costumes. There are, however, some excellent pieces of playground equipment that create the settings that unleash their creativity to a greater extent and transport them to imaginary worlds. From shop kiosks to wigwams, steam trains to castle-themed climbing towers, there is a lot of imaginative play equipment to choose from.

Outdoor games

Outdoor games help smaller groups of children develop interpersonal skills, foster better relationships and build friendships. All of these can have an impact both in school and in the community as a whole. The simple act of playing together, whether in a pair or friendship group, improves personal communication and forges bonds between people as they take part in fun activities.

The range of outdoor games available for school playgrounds is wider than ever. Besides the traditional playground markings for games like hopscotch, there are also outdoor versions of popular table games like chess, Ludo, snakes and ladders and Connect 4. You can even get outdoor table football, table tennis and puzzle tables.

Performing

Performing provides many of the same opportunities for social interaction as both team sports and roleplay. Those taking part in a made-up drama will develop skills in improvisation and communication. And as social interaction is the basis for most drama, the opportunity to progress in this area is obvious. Providing an outdoor stage in the playground is the simplest way to get children to start improvising and performing in front of their peers is a fantastic confidence booster.

That same stage can also be used to create dance routines, an activity that relies on social interaction in order to decide the moves and work together as a unified team. Similar skills can be learned from working together as a music ensemble, using outdoor percussion instruments, to create beats and rhythms and perform them in time for their peers.

Summing Up

Social interaction is an essential skill, helping children to be confident enough to communicate with others and do so in a way that helps them achieve and which enables the school community to get along more harmoniously. Hopefully, the ideas and equipment mentioned here will help you extend the opportunities for social interaction at your school.

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Sport Premium Survey – How Double Funding Has Affected Schools

In July, the Department for Education released the findings of a major survey looking at the impact of the Primary PE and Sport Premium. Over 3,000 schools took part in the survey which sought to discover how the premium has been used and what its effects have been since the amount was doubled in 2017. In this post, we’ll look at some of the main findings of the survey.

Who decides how the premium is spent?

The general response is that the decisions on how to spend the sport premium are shared by a number of stakeholders. While the headteacher, unsurprisingly, is involved in 78% of decisions, the majority of schools also involve senior leaders (58%) and other teachers (51%). School governors (41%) also play a significant role. Pupils and business managers each take part in 33% of schools whereas parents are only involved in 6% of decisions.

Most useful sources of advice

Schools were asked where they got advice on how to best use their premium and were then asked to rank the top three sources. Those considered as giving the most useful guidance were local PE and sports networks (58%), other primary schools (40%), coaches and sports companies (29%). The least useful were governors (3%), Sport England (9%), local authorities (10%) and the Association for PE (10%). Other frequently used sources included local secondaries, the Youth Sport Trust, the County Sport Partnership and DfE guidance.

Limited increase in curriculum time

The impact of the doubling of the sport premium has had a minimal impact on how much curriculum time is devoted to PE in primary schools. In almost two-thirds of schools, there has been no increase whatsoever across either Key Stage 1 or 2. Only 8% of schools have added an extra hour or more of PE to the timetable and just over a fifth of schools (23% in KS1 and 22% in KS2) have increased time by up to half an hour.

How money is spent on the PE curriculum

The spending of the extra sport premium funding on curricular PE generally falls into three categories. Around a quarter of schools use it on introducing new PE activities, another quarter use it to enhance the quality of existing provision (e.g., more teachers, extended sessions and teaching deeper skills), while the remaining schools have done a mixture of both.

Interestingly, those schools with the highest proportion of FSM students were more likely to introduce new PE activities while larger primaries were more inclined to improve the quality of provision.

Extracurricular spending

The use of the sport premium for extracurricular activities differed significantly to how it was spent on curriculum PE. Here, 33% of schools had used it specifically to introduced new types of sports activity with 54% using it for a mix of new and existing activities. Surprisingly, only 9% have focused on enhancing the quality of the extracurricular sporting activities since 2016/17.

Equipment top of the shopping list

The survey also asked schools to submit details of the specific things that they did with the funding. Top of the list was investment in new equipment, something 92% of schools used part of their funding for. This was followed by training existing staff (88%), increasing extracurricular sport (83%) and increasing physical activity across the school day (75%). Other popular areas of spending included increasing involvement with sport, transport to fixtures and employing sports coaches.

Perceived impact

Respondents to the survey were asked to give their views on how the doubling of the sports premium had impacted their school. Over half of all respondents believed that the profile of sport and PE had significantly improved while the percentage of pupils doing 30 minutes of physical activity per day had increased a lot in 42% of schools and a little in a further 40%. Similar increases were seen in the level of competitive sport being offered to pupils.

Most respondents thought all children benefitted from increased physical exercise, be that in curriculum PE (66% of respondents), extracurricular sport (73%) or sports competitions (63%). The children seen to have benefitted most through increased participation were children with SEND (42% of respondents) and FSM/PP students (41%). There was no difference between boys and girls.

Key priorities for future spending

Health and wellbeing are clearly the most important priorities for schools when it comes to investing the sport premium in the future. By far the most popular responses (both 50%) were finding better ways to engage the least active children and to reduce obesity and promote active lifestyles.

Other important priorities were upskilling staff, using PE to improve whole school development and providing more extracurricular and competitive sports. Although increasing activity levels is the top priority, by contrast, only 13% of schools wanted to use the premium to extend curricular PE time.

Conclusion

The Primary PE and Sport Premium survey has produced some interesting results about how the new double funding has been used and its impact. Overall, it seems to have brought a general improvement in curricular and extracurricular provision though this is limited and inconsistent. Hopefully, the results of the survey can assist other schools to use their sport premium more effectively.

If you are looking for better ways to invest your funding, take a look at our Sport Premium page.

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Government Puts Physical Activity Back on the School Agenda

The new School Sports and Activity Action Plan, announced in July, is a programme implemented by no less than three Whitehall Departments: the Department for Education, the Department for Health and Social Care and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. It’s a major public health initiative and its directives will impact on schools.

What is the action plan aiming to do?

early years outdoor play

The aim of the new action plan is to increase participation in sport and physical activity in order to improve the long term physical and mental health and wellbeing of young people with the hope that they will continue to enjoy healthy lifestyles throughout their lives.

According to the most recent Active Lives Children and Young People survey, a third of young people in the UK still do not do the recommended minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity per day. The action plan seeks to change this by introducing new ways to put sport at the heart of young people’s daily routines. In particular, it seeks to find ways to encourage girls and other social groups that currently do not take part in regular sporting activity.

Ofsted to focus more on physical activity

early years outdoor play

The action plan has been taken into account by the new Ofsted Inspection Framework which comes into effect at the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year. From September, inspection teams will expect a school’s curriculum to include opportunities for pupils to be active during the school day and through extra-curricular activities.

Specific focus points

The Sports and Activity Action Plan has a number of focused objectives that it wants to see achieved. These include increasing opportunities for girls and those from disadvantaged backgrounds and giving greater access to competitive sports, which it describes as ‘character-building’. As a result, it wants to see that there is equality for boys and girls when it comes to the sports, activities and competitions on offer. In addition, it is looking for schools to offer more modern PE lessons and provide access to high-quality after school clubs and competitions.

Extra funding in place

Although it is by no means a huge capital injection, the Department for Education has provided £2.5 million over the next financial year to help schools. This will be used to deliver additional training for PE staff, assist schools in making their sports facilities available during weekends and holidays, and to provide young people with increased opportunities to become sports leaders and coaches. A further £2 million is to be made available by Sport England with the purpose of setting up 400 new after-school clubs, offering coordinated sporting programmes and competitions for those pupils in disadvantaged areas.

Beyond health

early years outdoor play

Sport and physical activity have long been known to have an impact that goes beyond improving health and the action plan is designed to reap these additional benefits. As a result, all schools in England and Wales need to recognise the importance of physical literacy and modern PE lessons when it comes to improving such things as attainment, pupil behaviour and wellbeing. To increase enjoyment and participation, therefore, the action plan wants pupils to have a greater role in determining the range of sports and physical activities on offer. In doing so, schools are encouraged to provide activities for those pupils who are not motivated by what is currently on offer.

What schools should consider

Essentially, the action plan seeks to integrate sport and exercise into the daily routines of all pupils; it wants to increase the amount of time students spend being active but doing so in a way that will appeal to all, especially those who currently turn their back on traditional sports and activities.

For schools, this means listening to the pupils and finding out what activities they would be more inclined to enjoy. Sports England, for example, is investing £1 million in digital resources for girls, including a range of workout videos with Netflix-appeal, that can be used in schools. Some schools have expanded their offer by buying in third-party providers of equestrian and water sports, others have utilised outdoor spaces to install climbing walls, Trim Trails, outdoor gyms and MUGAs. Even installing simple playground markings can dramatically increase the activities on offer, providing pitch and court markings for football, basketball, netball, cricket, tennis and more.

Conclusion

The School Sports and Activity Action Plan aims to expand physical and sports activity in schools, especially for those pupils who are not currently enticed to take part. With Ofsted taking increased note of the breadth and balance of the curriculum, it is likely that there will be close scrutiny of those schools which do not provide adequate opportunities for all students to take part in sports and physical activity. Hopefully, this article will have given you a greater understanding of what the government is trying to achieve and how schools will be expected to play their part.

If you are looking to offer a wider range of sports and outdoor activities, take a look at our outdoor playground equipment.

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The Role of the School Playground in Tackling Climate Change

Climate change is the burning issue of the moment – and rightly so. The impact of human activity on the planet is leading to disastrous consequences for all life forms, including our own. Unfortunately, it is our children and their children who are going to suffer the worst of these effects and if we want to reverse the situation, then we urgently need children to learn about what the causes are and how they can bring around change.

That learning starts in school and one of the best places for it to happen is in the playground. Playing outdoors is vital if children are to start understanding the environment and how to take care of it. Outdoor play encourages children to develop a love and an appreciation of nature, something they seldom get the chance to in today’s screen-obsessed world.

Climate change is already having a devastating impact on young lives. Respiratory infections, due to polluted air and water, are estimated to take the lives of two million under-fives each year. The effects upon weather mean that we are seeing more storms and flooding in some areas and worsening droughts in others. These cause large scale devastation, sometimes with hundreds of thousands of people being made homeless and lacking basic essentials like food, water or shelter, which in turn lead to famine, disease and long-term poverty.

In order to improve the climate, we need to make drastic changes. Although the UK may have committed to being carbon neutral by 2050, this will have no significant impact if the rest of the world doesn’t follow suit. The key to success lies in changing attitudes to climate change and here, society has a critical role to play by exposing children to the wonders of being outside.

Unfortunately, there’s plenty of research to show that this is not the case. When away from school, children are increasingly confined indoors and don’t get the opportunity to enjoy unstructured play. There are many reasons for this: fear over the child’s safety, parents too busy working, too much homework, not enough local places to play, the attraction of the internet. While the causes are many, the result is that children begin to see the outdoor world as alien. Unlike their parents did, they don’t go out to play. They don’t climb trees, throw sticks, collect conkers, roll down hills, explore woods and streams or do anything much that links them to nature. The fear is that this lack of connection with the outdoors will make them even less environmentally friendly than the generations that have gone before.

The onus, therefore, is on schools to make up for what society is failing to provide. Thankfully, there is a great deal that schools can do, on a daily basis, to get children learning and playing outdoors.

early years outdoor play

To foster the sheer enjoyment of being outside, break and lunchtimes are best left for unstructured play and there are some fantastic pieces of outdoor playground equipment that can be used to encourage involvement. From sports and games markings to climbing frames and obstacle courses, these are great for encouraging children to have fun in the open air.

It’s not just during breaktimes, however, when the playground can play a part. Many schools are now developing their own outdoor classrooms and there is a wide range of outdoor resources available for all curriculum areas. Indeed, the outdoor learning space has a lot to offer, especially when doing active lessons or work that requires observation of the natural world, such as art, geography and science.

In addition, there has been a big increase in the number of schools providing access to nature areas. More schools are developing on-site ‘forest school’ environments, often using pre-existing grassed or garden areas of the premises. These are then added to with shrubs and trees, trellises, planters, water features, bug houses and bird feeders to give children more experience of the local flora and fauna. Nature areas are extremely popular with children who are not only fascinated with the plants and creatures but who find them peaceful havens in which to get some much-needed time out during the busy school day.

Some schools have begun to start other climate-friendly activities. One which is very popular is the ‘Walk to School Day’, which aims to get children more active and reduce pollution outside the school gates. Run once a week, these often include walking chains where children and parents will pick up classmates on-route so that no-one is left walking alone. Just imagine how much pollution could be cut If every school did this?

Taking part in such initiatives is useful in getting children and their parents to think about the environment and how they can make a positive impact. In doing so, you encourage them to develop a more caring attitude and take ownership of their actions.

early years outdoor play markings

Summing up

The future of the planet lies in the hands of today’s youngsters. If we are to prevent climate change having a catastrophic impact, not only do we need to teach them about how to make the world a better place, we also need to foster the desire to care for it. You can’t do this without giving them access to the outdoors. Only by being outdoors will they develop a sense of awe and wonder at nature. As a school, you have the opportunity to make this happen.

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How to Reduce Sickness Absence Through Outdoor Play

Although schools are doing more than ever to increase attendance levels, the rates of absence due to sickness have increased, according to the DfES. One potential reason for this is that today’s children spend far more time indoors than previous generations and so are less immune to common illnesses. Additionally, increased pressure to achieve has led to more children suffering from stress. To reverse these problems, there are calls for schools to encourage more outdoor activities. Here is how outdoor play and outdoor lessons can help.

The Vitamin D effect

early years outdoor play

As most people already know, spending time outdoors helps increase our Vitamin D levels. This is because our bodies naturally create Vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight. From April to September, even short periods of exposure to our hands, faces, arms and legs is sufficient to produce all we need.

And while most of us are aware that Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, it also plays an important role in the function of our immune system, helping our bodies fight off infections. Without Vitamin D, we make ourselves more prone to catching bugs and for schools, this means more children being off school for longer.

There are always a few children away with bugs and colds but, today, there seems to be a significant increase in the number of infections ‘doing the rounds’. Indeed, the situation has become so concerning, that some schools have begun to put up hand sanitisers in the way hospitals do. In the worst cases, schools are even asking parents to keep entire groups of students at home until the infection has passed.

If sunlight exposure and Vitamin D can help improve immunity to these infections, then extending the amount of time children play outside can only be a good thing. Any school considering cutting lunchtime in half to enable an earlier finish should consider how that choice can impact on attendance and wellbeing.

That said, it’s not necessary to extend lunch or breaktimes, rather it’s about increasing the opportunity to be outside. This means putting equipment in the playground that children will want to play on or creating outdoor learning environments where lessons can take place in the fresh air.

The magic of muck

Aside from Vitamin D, the other thing that helps immunity is exposure to the very things that cause us to get ill. Such is the wonder of the human body, that when we are exposed to viruses and bacteria, our bodies learn to fight them. This means the next time we come across them, we deal with them quicker and more effectively.

Unfortunately, children today live in hyper-clean environments where exposure to these microbes is limited. Sanitary product manufacturers have done too good a job at scaring parents into disinfecting everything. Ironically, our desire to protect children from infections has made them less immune to fighting them off.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, letting children participate in mucky play, such as with mud pies, can be good for them. The immunity they develop to the microbes will mean that they are less likely to succumb to infections later on and this can have a positive impact on the number of days they have off ill. Remember, human beings have existed quite well for thousands of years without the need for sanitising gels, anti-bacterial sprays and wet-wipes – it might be far more beneficial to replace these with a mud kitchen.

The benefits of exercise

early years outdoor play markings

When we talk about the benefits of getting children to be active in the playground, it is usually in respect to its impact on their fitness and in reducing obesity. While these are certainly health benefits to be welcomed, we also need to consider that activity can help children to be better at fighting infections.

Exercise, whether it is just walking around or doing more challenging playground activities like playing on climbing equipment, is what causes the lymphatic system to circulate. This is the system that creates the white blood cells that attack infections and then drains the resulting waste away from the bloodstream and organs.

Getting children to be active, therefore, helps them fight infections more effectively and keeps them fit enough to stay at school.

Alleviating stress

Much of the stress suffered by pupils today is a direct result of the pressure put on schools by Ofsted to improve progress and attainment. With no sign of those expectations being diminished, it is up to schools to manage pupil (and staff) workloads in a way which will have a minimum effect on their wellbeing.

While some amount of stress is natural, being overstressed can have an enormous impact on our health, affecting our immune system and stopping us being able to relax, sleep and even eat well. Over the longer term, it can increase the likelihood of serious illnesses, such as stroke, heart disease and cancer. With regard to mental health, it can be linked to depression, anxiety, self-harm, eating disorders and suicide. Those who suffer from stress are also more likely to turn to unhealthy habits as coping mechanisms, for example, smoking, drugs and alcohol.

Today, we are seeing increasing numbers of children taking time off school because of stress. One way to help manage stress and reduce the impact on attendance is to give children more opportunity to work and play outside.

According to the NHS, lack of sunlight can cause part of the brain called the hypothalamus to stop working properly. When this happens, our body produces less of the hormone, serotonin, which we need to lift our mood and cope better with stress. Being in the sunlight, therefore, can help us deal with stress more effectively. In addition, taking part in outdoor physical activity or having somewhere calm and quiet to escape the daily pressures of the classroom can also help us feel less stressed.

Conclusion

Keeping children in school is essential if they are to make consistent progress. However, this is difficult to do if children lack the immunity to fight off infections or are not given the opportunity to participate in activities that alleviate stress. Hopefully, the ideas mentioned here will be useful in helping to keep your pupils healthier and thus improve their attendance.

If you are looking for resources to create outdoor classrooms or for inspirational playground equipment, check out our wide selection of products.

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