The Role of Outdoor Play in Pupil Progress

Pupil progress is a cornerstone of the modern education system and something against which all schools are judged, both by Ofsted and in academic league tables. When it comes to improving progress, the emphasis is usually on what happens in the classroom, with heads wanting to improve the ways that teachers teach and pupils learn. One piece of the jigsaw often overlooked, however, is what happens outside of the classroom, in the school playground, and how this can play a vital contribution to pupil progress overall. Here we’ll look at the educational value of outdoor play.

literacy and phonics

The link between outdoor activity and pupil progress

Playground activity is often physical activity and participation in this, especially when it involves aerobic exercise like running, jumping or climbing, can be beneficial for both physical health and academic progress. Indeed, a study by Public Health England (PHE) found evidence that aerobically fit pupils achieve higher academic results.

With many children no longer getting regular exercise at home, a result of cautious parenting and the lure of modern hi-tech gadgetry, it is in the school playground where pupils get the greatest opportunities to be active.

Ideally, pupils need an hour of exercise every day and there are various ways schools can encourage participation, such as through the installation of playground markings for sports like football, netball, tennis and basketball or for stepping games like hopscotch. Playing on climbing equipment is also an enjoyable exercise and excellent for developing physical strength and overall fitness. Enabling children to get involved in these activities during break times, lunchtimes and PE can help increase the fitness that is associated with increased academic achievement.

Problem-solving – a transferable skill

The PHE study also pointed out how the development of problem-solving skills also contributes to pupil progress. A well-equipped playground has the potential to be one of the best resources a school has for giving pupils problems to solve and for providing the freedom to explore solutions and develop those essential skills.

One example of how this can be done is with a traversing wall. While children naturally enjoy the challenge of climbing and getting from one end to the other without falling off, success only comes after they have solved the problems they face. What’s the best way to hold on? How do I get across a wide gap? What’s the best route from start to finish? Similar problem-solving skills are required when using a wide range of different playground apparatus, whether it's figuring out how to stop a sandcastle collapsing, how to complete a Trim Trail obstacle course, how to complete a Tangled rope challenge or even how to sail a pirate ship during role play. Of course, once these skills are developed, they can be transferred to the classroom to aid children in their learning.

Better classroom behaviour

If five minutes of every one hour lesson is wasted through poor behaviour or lack of attention, then between reception and year 6 or between year 7 and year 13, pupils will miss out on the equivalent of 22 weeks of learning – over half an academic year. As any teacher who has undertaken intervention work with borderline children will know, those 22 weeks are invaluable when it comes to getting children to the level needed to achieve or exceed their targets. Improving classroom behaviour is, therefore, one way to help pupils make progress.

Indeed, the link between physical activity and improved, whole-school behaviour is a key point raised in the PHE study. Its findings show that taking part improves both relationships between pupils and their social behaviour. This, in turn, reduces classroom disruption and increases the amount of time that students have to learn and progress.

Again, the opportunities to participate in physical activity lie mainly in the playground where children can participate at intervals throughout the day: before school commences, at break and at lunch. The challenge is in motivating pupils to take part, but with the right climbing, sports or roleplay equipment available for them, they are much more likely to become active.

Conclusion

All schools want their pupils to make excellent progress, indeed their futures may depend upon it. Progress is also one of the key metrics through which judgements are made, both for the school as a whole and for the individuals who work within it. What the PHE study reveals is that there is a direct link between outdoor play and academic progress which comes from increased physical activity, problem-solving and improved behaviour. For pupils to benefit, however, schools need to make sure that playgrounds offer the opportunities to participate and the equipment that will motivate them to do so.

For more information about our playground equipment, visit our Products page.

(0)

Coronavirus Lockdown – Can Pupils Still At School Play Outdoors?

With thousands of schools still open for the children of key workers, many teachers are asking whether it is still safe to play outdoors. The simple answer to this is yes; however, only if carried out safely. Here, we’ll explain why playing out is still very important and how it should be conducted to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.

literacy and phonics

Fitter, Better, Sooner

‘Fitter, Better, Sooner’ is a health initiative from the Centre for Perioperative Care (CPOC) that aims to improve people’s recovery rates from surgery and to reduce the number of post-operative complications. In recent days, however, CPOC has issued advice to the UK public that following the Fitter, Better, Sooner guidance can help people be in a better state of health to fight Coronavirus and thus reduce the chances that they will become seriously ill from it.

The advice from CPOC is for people to stop smoking, have alcohol-free days, take brisk exercise, eat nutritiously and stay mentally healthy. While some of this guidance is obviously aimed at adults, for the children of key workers still attending school, teachers can do their bit to help improve physical health and mental wellbeing. This is perhaps critically important for those children still at school, many of whom will have increased risk of catching the virus because their parents work in the healthcare system.

When it comes to physical health, the advice is to take a brisk walk, cycle or jog. In addition, exercise that improves strength and balance is also recommended. Many of these forms of exercise can be done in the school playground and taking this opportunity means children now restricted to leaving home once a day, can get outside for an additional period of time, which can be beneficial to their mental wellbeing.

Playing safely during Coronavirus

If you allow children to play outside during the Coronavirus pandemic, it is important that social distancing rules are strictly adhered to. This means pupils must remain a minimum of 6 feet or 2 metres apart at all times. At the same time, because the virus can be spread from touching surfaces, children must not be allowed to share equipment during play, this includes everything from climbing frames to footballs. Indeed, for safety, pupils shouldn’t be given access to shared play apparatus and must be told not to pick up anything that has been handled by someone else, even if it is something as seemingly innocuous as a stick.

The implication is that, even though there will be very few pupils in the school, any outdoor activities need to be planned, structured and supervised. Perhaps one of the best forms of exercise for both children and staff is to take part in the Daily Mile – this will give an opportunity for brisk walking or jogging, which can be done with staggered starts to keep children at a safe distance from each other. Alternatively, you can always have races and even introduce fun by asking them to hop, jump, balance and even do dance moves while taking part. Indeed, if you have a battery-operated CD player, why not play games like ‘freeze dance’ where children dance until the music stops and then have to freeze in whatever position they were in?

If you have playground markings for stepper training or games like hopscotch, pupils can take turns while their friends watch at a safe distance. Of course, instead of having an object to throw and retrieve, they can just be assigned a square to finish on.

If teachers are stuck for ideas for physical activities, one possible solution is to look at drama starters and warm-up activities, many of which are done individually but with the purpose of showing to others. These are fun and active ways to get children engaged while outdoors.

Other benefits

Aside from being good for their fitness and mental wellbeing, getting pupils out of doors has other benefits. As social distancing means they will be cooped up at home for most of the time, there is increased risk of Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D, which is essential for good health, is produced in our bodies when skin is exposed to sunlight. Getting children out into the playground is an effective way to boost their Vitamin D levels.

At the same time, being outdoors gives the opportunity to keep children even further apart than 6 feet. The more time they spend outside, therefore, the less chance there is of them passing the virus on to others.

Finally, remember that pupils should wash or sanitise their hands on return to the school after playing out.

Conclusion

For the children of key workers still attending school, outdoor play and exercise can improve physical fitness and mental wellbeing. According to the CPOC, this, together with a healthy diet, can increase the body’s ability to fight the virus. However, for outdoor play to take part, play equipment should be thoroughly cleaned before and after use. This means teachers will need to think carefully about the activities they plan for playtimes and PE.

(0)

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.

literacy and phonics

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.

(0)

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.

(0)

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.

(0)