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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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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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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Playground Solutions That Help Children Achieve

It’s in everyone’s interest that young people succeed and, for schools, this means providing children with the opportunities and skills to achieve, whether that be in academic studies or in any other field. While much of the input will take place in the classroom, the school playground is increasingly being used as a space for learning and, in this post, we’ll look at the best playground solutions to help children achieve.

1. If at first you don't succeed...

early years outdoor play

Failure is an integral part of success – ask anyone who’s ever learnt to ride a bike. The problem is that some people never learn to ride because, after falling off, they give up. To succeed they need the resilience to get back on and the ability to learn from their mistakes.

In the playground, children tend to be less self-conscious about failure and this makes it the ideal location to develop resilience and perseverance. This is especially so when there is an array of play equipment. When there is a variety of different activities on offer, children soon realise that no one is good at everything and that it is okay to fail at things when you first give them a try.

Great pieces of equipment for building resilience are those challenging pieces which children have to learn to master, such as Trim Trails obstacle courses and traversing walls where trial and error are necessary for success.

2. The joy of learning

The human mind is naturally hedonistic and this means we tend to switch off if something isn’t enjoyable. When children get bored, they don’t learn so well and this can be a barrier to success. The opposite is also true: provide pupils with enjoyable activities and they will be more engaged, better motivated and eager to learn.

To increase enjoyment, more and more teachers are leaving the classroom to deliver active lessons in the playground. Why teach numbers and phonics on a whiteboard when you can have kids learning the same skills jumping on a giant number grid or playing a phonetic stepping game? Is it more interesting to look at a diagram of a plant’s root system or to see the real thing in a discovery planter? With such a variety of outdoor curriculum equipment available today, there’s a wealth of opportunity to provide children with a wide range of fun, active, outdoor lessons.

3. Gamification

early years outdoor play markings

Children love games and when they are incorporated into the learning experience, they are more motivated to achieve. Gamification is the process of using games to encourage participation; for example, replace rewards certificates with game-like point scoring where children can ‘level up’ and they’ll be much more inclined to want to earn rewards.

Games can be incorporated into everyday learning, too. For example, you can use outdoor battle boards (battleships) to teach coordinates, maths traversing walls to teach number skills, or tangram table puzzles to teach shapes. Using these kinds of sensory play in gamification lessons improves children’s ability to remember the skills they have learnt and this can be instrumental for future success.

4. An easy way to learn hard lessons

There are certain hard lessons in life that we’d all rather children didn’t have to experience. One way to help children avoid making such mistakes is to let them role play scenarios where they can experience these traumas by proxy and learn important lessons that they can take away and use.

Today’s outdoor stages make an ideal playground performance space to create role plays about important issues. When exploring bullying, for example, the children can experience what it is like to be a victim and see the consequences for the perpetrator. This can have a significant impact on the entire group; changing attitudes, reinforcing important values, preventing children from bullying and convincing those who see it to report it. In the long term, knowing the difference between right and wrong can be crucial in ensuring a child has a successful future ahead of them.

5. Dealing with stress

The world we live in is increasingly stressful and mental health is a growing issue. In schools, children who find it hard to cope with stress do less well in exams and are more prone to a range of other mental health issues. In order to counter this, most schools now provide spaces where children can escape from the pressures of the classroom and teach them strategies to help them cope.

Outdoor spaces are by far the best places to create an escape. They let pupils step away from the building associated with the pressure of learning and they are outside in the fresh air and open to the sunshine that provides mood enhancing vitamin D. One solution is to create peaceful nature gardens with planters and trellises, embellished with bug houses and bird feeders. Alternatively, you could install a MUGA, where the children can let off steam by participating in energetic sports or learning to relax by doing a spot of tai chi or yoga.

Conclusion

We all want children to achieve their potential but to do this successfully, they’ll need to overcome the obstacles that life puts in their way. This can be poor resilience, boredom, a lack of motivation, not knowing the right path or not being able to deal with stress. Schools are tasked with helping children in all these areas and it can be a challenge to find the right solutions. Hopefully, this post will have shown you that the playground can be one of your strongest assets and that, with the right equipment in place, it can work wonders for helping your pupils be successful.

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7 Curriculum Areas That Can Benefit from Outdoor Equipment

When schools think about installing outdoor play equipment they often look at a playground simply as a playground and don’t consider the ways it can be used to enhance learning. At ESP Play, we’ve spent years developing products for specific curriculum areas that let you turn your playground into an outdoor classroom which can be used in lessons or for children to use during break times.

To give you an idea of what you can achieve in your own playground, we’ve put together a list of seven curricular areas that can benefit from installing outdoor equipment.

1. Communication and language

Put a stage in a playground and it can be used during lessons for performing plays, music, dance and poetry. You can make as much noise as you like without having to disrupt neighbouring classes whilst giving children the chance to express themselves in fresh air.

During break times, outdoor stages become natural focal points where groups of children will create their own roleplays to show to their friends. They really are the ultimate children’s roleplay equipment, giving pupils the impetus to communicate with those who are watching.

It is a great way to encourage development in communication and language and is ideal for English, drama and music lessons.

2. Physical development

If you want playground equipment that offers pupils great fun and can be used for physical development during free times and PE lessons, then installing a Trim Trail is the ideal solution. Exciting to play on, Trim Trails help develop body strength, stamina, balance and coordination.

One of the biggest advantages for schools is that children love to play on them – they are a natural way to encourage participation in physical activity. You can also create your own bespoke trails, putting together different elements suited to your pupils’ ages and needs. You can even install equipment with easily interchangeable parts, letting you offer an even greater choice of activities.

3. Personal, social and emotional development

Social interaction is one of the key ingredients in driving personal, social and emotional development and this can be achieved in the playground simply by laying better playground flooring or adding a range of playground markings.

Both flooring and markings are excellent ways to encourage children to play together and interact. Your flooring choice can help make children feel safer and thus make them less inhibited, whilst the wide range of playground markings available give opportunities to children to participate in traditional, modern and self-invented playground activities, games and sports.

4. Literacy

One of the main curricular areas, developing literacy is a key focus for every school. A way to enhance and expand your literacy provision is to give pupils the chance to participate in English lessons outdoors.

Working outdoors can be a great inspiration when undertaking creative writing tasks and by using specially designed outdoor English equipment this is now possible for the whole class, small groups and even for one to one work for pupils who need to work with your classroom assistant.

You’ll also find that our range of boards and writing tables are perfect for outdoor handwriting activities which some children may want to do during break times.

5. Mathematics

Another key curriculum area that can benefit from being taught in your outdoor space is mathematics. Installing curriculum focused playground maths equipment is a great way to deliver fun and exciting outdoor maths activities that free you from the confines of the classroom and enable you to cover everything from basic adding to tessellation and symmetry. They are ideal for collaborative group work and for whole class active lessons.

What’s more, with maths-based games like battle boards (battleships) and soma cubes, you’re bound to keep the learning going through break and lunchtimes too, as these naturally interactive pieces will keep children engaged and entertained even during their free time.

6. Understanding the world

Children are fascinated by seeing nature in action and giving them access to it in your outdoor play area is a great way to encourage learning whilst enabling teachers to deliver essential elements of the science curriculum.

You can achieve this by installing our forest school equipment which will enable you to create your school’s own nature garden. This wide range of science-based, outdoor equipment can be used to study plant growth and insect life cycles, grow food, feed birds and investigate soils.

At the same time, you are creating a natural space in your playground which gives children much-needed access to nature whilst encouraging respect for wildlife and the environment at the same time.

7. Art and design

Children love art and design but there never seems to be enough curriculum time available to satisfy their appetite. However, it is now possible to give your pupils the chance to do some playground painting during their free time by installing specially designed outdoor art and design equipment in your playground.

Using chalkboards, dry wipe boards or a painting station, children can take inspiration from the outdoors to exercise their imaginations and develop their creative skills. What’s great about this equipment is that the pieces are interchangeable, so you can take them down and swap them over whenever you want.

They are also ideal for using in art lessons, especially when the sun is shining and you want to take advantage of the great outdoors and natural lighting.

Your playground is one of the biggest assets that your school has, yet for many schools it is much under used. With a little bit of investment, you can turn your outdoor play area into a fully functional, outdoor learning resource centre that can be utilised during lesson times and be a source of fun, excitement and extended learning during break and lunch times.    

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