How Outdoor Play Helps Overcome Pandemic Disruption

How Outdoor Play Helps Overcome Pandemic Disruption

As schools across the UK look for ways to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on learning and academic progress, there have been calls to lengthen school days, offer summer schools and implement a wide range of catch-up classes. While no doubt there is a lot of intervention being planned, school leaders should also consider the role of the playground in addressing some of the key learning skills that may have regressed over the last 18 months. Here, we look at how this can be addressed through outdoor play.

Cooperative learning

With long periods of isolation and social distancing, the opportunities for children to collaborate will have been few and far between over the last 18 months. With paired and group work being important elements of modern classroom practice, children need these skills to learn more effectively, especially when trying to catch up on missed work and reach the attainment targets that they are capable of.

Helping children relearn their rusty collaboration skills can be achieved in the playground with fun equipment that requires them to work together. A Trim Trails obstacle course, for example, is perfectly designed to challenge small teams of children to complete. Getting from start to finish requires them to work together to find the best route and help each other navigate different obstacles.

Personal effectiveness

Personal effectiveness covers a range of skills that pupils need to manage their workloads and learning, for example, setting themselves targets and goals, segmenting larger projects into manageable chunks and developing resilience and determination.

The playground provides many opportunities for children to hone these skills through play. Free Flow climbing frames, for instance, have a succession of different challenges for children to overcome to complete a circuit. Pupils can set themselves goals about which routes to take, so they can up the challenge over time; they will need to manage their route through the circuit by breaking it down into the individual obstacles, and with occasional failures cropping up, they’ll need resilience to get the job finished. All these skills, of course, are transferable.

Creativity

Sitting at the very apex of Bloom’s Taxonomy, developing a child’s creative skills is key to helping them achieve the highest levels of learning. Facilitating creativity is often best achieved when giving children the freedom to produce something new. The time when children have the most freedom to be creative is during break times when they are outdoors.

Creativity can be encouraged and fostered by providing pupils with the right outdoor resources. These include resources for art and design, whether that’s to get children painting and drawing, sandcastle building or sticking and gluing twigs and leaves to make nature art. Inspiration can also come in the guise of outdoor percussion instruments, which need little in the way of skill but provide endless ways to create unique rhythms and beats, often through working together with a small ensemble.

Communication skills

Person to person communication is vital to successful learning but children have had little opportunity to develop these skills throughout the pandemic. Refreshing and enhancing skills such as turn-taking, listening, questioning, negotiating and presenting, has to be a priority for schools over the next few years. For younger children, especially, the chance to do so comes from the much-loved playground activity of role play, where pupils can invent a multitude of different situations and take on the role of real and imagined characters.

Role play comes naturally to children; however, they prefer to do it in the freedom of the playground where they aren’t being watched by teachers. At the same time, the amount of role play that takes place and the quality of the interactions that children improvise depends to a great extent on the facilities and resources on hand. Providing props and settings that inspire role play and which help children take their imaginations to different places and situations is important to make the most of these opportunities for developing communication skills. With a wide range of inspirational role play playground equipment now available, including shop kiosks, stages, storytelling chairs, play huts, bridges, carriages, trains and boats, there are plenty of ways to create the perfect role play zone in any playground.

Conclusion

Schools are under intense pressure to help pupils recover from the disruption of the pandemic. Of key importance here, is the need to address any regression in the learning skills that are so important to progress and achievement. While interventions can be implemented in the classroom, school leaders should not underestimate the valuable role that outdoor play can help in mitigating the impact of school absence on learning. With the right playground equipment and ample time to play, there is real potential to gain lost ground quickly.

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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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Healthy Schools Initiatives that Actually Work

Sedentary lifestyles and processed foods are having a huge impact on the nation’s health. 25% of UK children are overweight by the time they start reception and 10% are obese. By the time they leave for secondary school, the number of obese children doubles. This can lead to a lifetime of poor
eating and exercise habits that ultimately have a devastating effect on their health and life expectancy whilst also placing a huge burden on the NHS and social care. In addition, those who do not lead healthy lifestyles are likely to pass on their habits to their own children.

Tackling the UK’s poor eating and exercise habits has been an issue for some time and schools have
been given the challenge of trying to change that. Over the years there has been a succession of
initiatives from changing school menus, banning sweets, crisps and sugary drinks, the Healthy Active
Schools System, the Healthy Schools Awards and more. Schools now run countless programmes
including visiting experts, interactive displays, health orientated PSCHE lessons, cooking lessons for
parents and sporty afterschool activities.

However, according to a recent BBC report, ‘Anti-obesity programmes in schools don’t work’, many
of these initiatives are not having an impact. In a recent study by the University of Birmingham,
researchers set up a typical, school-based healthy lifestyle programme catering for 6 and 7-year- olds
in 26 local primary schools. 30 months later, their results showed that there had been “no significant
reductions in BMI and no improvements in energy expenditure, body fat measurements or activity
levels - compared with those not taking part.”

Why aren’t these initiatives working?

The simple answer is that teaching and doing are two different things. We can teach children and parents how to be healthy, give them opportunities to participate and point them in the direction where they can get exercise and healthy food, but this doesn’t change their habits. In this day and age, the majority of parents already know what’s needed to lead a healthy life. Unfortunately, their circumstances and lifestyle often get in the way.

With many families having two working parents, convenience is often top of the list when it comes to the weekly shopping. You can cook a frozen pizza and chips in the oven in 20 minutes and it can be hard not to when the kids demand tea as soon as you get home from work. Following on from this is price: the cost of the weekly shop has risen significantly while wages have remained static. Families are buying less expensive foods which are often higher in fats, sugars and additives.

And, of course, families live sedentary lifestyles. It's not just that children spend all their time on phones and gadgets: many parents don’t let their kids play out anymore. The last thing parents feel like doing after a busy day at work, making the tea, washing up, getting the uniforms ready and making packed lunches, is to take the family out for some exercise. They are tired, worn out and want nothing more than to put their feet up and watch a boxed set. The kids, meanwhile are left face-timing friends and watching their favourite YouTube stars.

It is little wonder, therefore, that healthy lifestyle initiatives geared simply towards educating are failing to have an impact.

What does work?

Helping children reduce weight is all about maths. If their calorie intake is less than the amount they expend, they’ll lose weight. If it’s more, they’ll put weight on. The best approach, therefore, is to tackle it from both ends. Firstly, by reducing the amount of unhealthy, high calorie, food being consumed, such as fat and sugar, you can reduce the daily calorie intake. This can be achieved through a healthy school menu and stricter rules about packed lunches and snacks.

Secondly, you can increase the number of calories being used by building exercise into the school day. Not only will this help reduce weight in overweight children, it will have a positive impact on all pupils’ physical and mental health and can even improve behaviour and attainment. 

How to introduce physical activity in school

One of the most effective ways to increase physical activity is to give pupils the opportunity to be active whilst they play. Rather than sending children out into a boring old playground with nothing to do, many schools are now investing in outdoor playground equipment that encourages physical play. Indeed, research has shown that using ESP equipment has led to a 19% increase in physical activity.

Creating fun obstacle courses such as a Trim Trail, or installing Free Flow climbing equipment is a great way to encourage participation. You can also install a wide variety of playground markings which can be used for everything from hopscotch to team sports. For children who are more creative, there is a whole range of equipment that can be used for role-play, drama and dance activities.

Physical activity doesn’t just have to be reserved for PE and break times, either. With our wide selection of curriculum-based outdoor classroom equipment, you can now unleash your students from the desk and give them some active learning in the fresh air. At ESP Play, we have resources for every curriculum area, so, no matter what subject you are delivering, if the weather is fine, there’s no excuse to stay sedentary indoors.

Finally, you should consider signing up for The Daily Mile, a new initiative that gets every child in the school jogging (or even walking) at their own pace, for 1 mile every day. It takes just 15 minutes to do, needs no setting up and can be done in school uniform. It’s simple, easy and very effective.  

Conclusion

Whilst educating pupils and parents about healthy lifestyles is important, on its own, it is having little impact on improving physical health or reducing childhood obesity. The biggest impact a school can have, therefore, is to make physical activity a normal part of school life and that means active play, active lessons and increased time for initiatives such as The Daily Mile. This way, not only are you teaching about a healthy lifestyle, you are providing it too.

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Best Child-Friendly Playground Climbing Equipment

Schools and private nurseries are installing climbing equipment in playgrounds all over the country, but which is the ideal solution for your playground? In this post, we’ll take a look at four exciting types of child-friendly climbing equipment, so you can see the range on offer and judge which is the best for the children in your care.

Trim Trails

Trim Trails are a brilliant way to create exciting obstacle courses in your playground and turn bored kids into eager participants. If you are looking for the ideal way to give your pupils fun things to do and inspire them to undertake physical challenges, then this is the ideal solution.

One of the best things about building a Trim Trails course is that you are able to design your own. This means you can choose the right pieces of equipment to match the needs of your pupils and the constraints of your space and budget. And there are lots of different Trim Trail elements you can choose from, there are climbing nets, balance bars, chin-up and dip bars, log climbers, jungle bars, striding posts, wobbly bridges, clamber under and over challenges, swinging logs and many other obstacles.

Trim Trail equipment is designed to encourage physical activity and to develop resilience and self-esteem. We have three sets of Trim Trails, simplified, intermediate and advanced, all of which cater for different ages or abilities and you can mix and match to cater for everyone from EYFS to secondary age.

Besides out traditional Trim Trails, we also have a range of interchangeable Trim Trails. These have easily interchangeable components that enable you to change elements of your course so that children can have a new challenge every day.

Freeflow Climbing System

The concept behind Freeflow is to create a playground where children design their own challenge. With input from the school council, schools can create a bespoke climbing experience, choosing from a range of modular post structures and interconnecting pieces.

Built on a grid structure, Freeflow is a piece of climbing equipment that has no defined start and end. Pupils can hop on wherever they choose and are free to move around the structure in a way they find most enjoyable – hence the name Freeflow.

Like the Trim Trails equipment, Free Flow is designed to encourage physical activity, stamina, strength and coordination and there are plenty of modules you can choose from to create your own structure: tyre bridges, traverse walls and nets, rope crossings, crazy trails and much more.

One of the advantages of Freeflow is that, even after it has been installed, you can continue to add new elements to it. So, if you are restricted by budget, you can add a new section each year. Check out the Freeflow designer kit to see the full range of modules.

Tangled

Tangled is part of the ESP Play wooden playground equipment range and, as the name suggests, focuses on rope play. Inspired by spiders’ webs and ships rigging, Tangled is one of the most popular playground choices in schools across the country. 

Designed especially for younger pupils, this equipment comes in sizes suitable for children from EYFS all the way through to KS2. Ideal for climbing, balancing, swinging and mastering tricky manoeuvres, there are currently eight separate elements you can put together to create your ideal Tangled ensemble.

With enchanting designs and wonderful names, e.g. cobweb, tarantula, black widow and wolf, these pieces not only motive children to undertake physical activity but inspire creative roleplay too.  

Play Towers

If you are catering for younger children or only have limited outdoor space, our range of play towers might be just what you are looking for. We have a wide selection of towers to choose from and they provide lots of opportunities for children to have fun and take part in physical activity: tunnels, bridges, slides, sliding poles, ramps, rope nets and climbing walls.

Of course, young children love making up their own adventures and this selection of towers provide everything they need to inspire great roleplay. There are towers and turrets, flags, drawbridges and pitched roofed dens.

Conclusion

As you can see, there is a huge range of options you can choose from if you are looking to install high-quality climbing equipment in your playground. All the pieces mentioned here are designed to be safe for children, are sturdily constructed and built for constant heavy use. You also have flexibility in how you can mix and match individual components, enabling you to create a truly bespoke climbing structure that meets your exact needs.

For more information or for help with design, contact us on 01282 43 44 45. We’ll be glad to help.

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How to Design a School Playground – 5 Key Tips

A well-designed school playground can be a real asset. With the right layout and outdoor play equipment, it can offer a wide range of benefits in health, behaviour, inclusion and even attainment. It also means happier pupils. Getting your design right, however, can be difficult. So, to help, our design experts have put together these five key tips to help you design your perfect school playground.

1. Make it Inviting

If you are going to invest in school playground equipment, you want your pupils to take advantage of all the new things you’ll provide for them and the best way to do this is to make your playground an inviting place.

To do this, start by making sure you install your new equipment in a place that is easily accessible to all pupils. Keep it fairly near to the school building so children don’t have to walk far to get there and make sure there are adequate pathways to it; no one wants to traipse through a quagmire in order to play.

Being overprotective of your new playground design can also make it uninviting, so avoid barricading it behind wire mesh fencing. Making it look like a prison yard is not going to encourage kids to play.

2. Design A Place of Discovery

One of the best ways to design a playground is to layout your equipment so that it leads children from area to area in a voyage of discovery. For example, if you have a trim trail, make sure, when the pupils reach the end of it, there is another enticing piece of equipment waiting for them to play on.

Climbing towers can be great for discovery, too. Locating them in the centre of the playground means that when they climb to the top, they can see the all the other pieces of equipment spread out around them. You can add to this by putting a favourite piece of equipment facing the bottom of the slide.

If you have a quiet space that is sectioned off from the rest of the playground, divide it up into mini areas so children have to pass through secret gateways to get in. For example, your sand and water area may lead to a nature garden and from there to a sensory area.

3. Build in Elements of Risk

Managing risk is a life skill that all pupils need to learn and the school playground is the ideal place for them to do this in a safe and measured way. Risky play is also fun and can be a great way to boost self-confidence.

There are many pieces of outdoor play equipment that provide an element of risk. Balance beams, climbing walls, rope equipment and monkey bars, etc, provide pupils with exciting ways to challenge themselves and manage the risks they face. Of course, make sure all the equipment and playground surfacing is designed to keep your children as safe as possible.

4. Quiet Areas

All playgrounds should provide a quiet space for children. Some pupils won’t like noisy areas and will feel more comfortable and secure where it is less busy. Others will just want to take a break from playing on the bigger pieces of equipment.

If you already have a green space on your school grounds, then consider putting in some adequate seating or even some play huts and dens where small groups of friends can chat quietly together. If you haven’t a green space, you can create a nature zone with lots of planters, bird tables and bug houses. In warmer weather these are great places to take out paper and paints or to spread out some blankets and a box of books for children to read in the sunshine.

5. Use Zone To Cater For Different Groups

A well-designed playground will be inclusive and cater for the needs of all pupils. One of the best ways to achieve this is to divide it into clearly defined zones so that there is a range of different activities available for all.

Discussing the design with your pupils will help you understand what kinds of things they would like and this can be useful when deciding on the zones you want to include. Typically, you’ll find children wanting a sports area, a climbing or obstacle course area, an area for roleplay and creative play, a quiet/nature area and, for younger children, a water, mud and sand play area. Older children will also want an area where they just can ‘hang out’.

Another reason for creating zones is that if you design a playground around a single piece of premium equipment, you may find that this gets monopolised by the more dominant children and the rest get left out. By all means, install that equipment, but make sure there are plenty of other things, including areas that will attract the dominant kids too.  

Conclusion

Designing a school playground that works for all your pupils can be a challenge. It involves a great deal of collective input and with space and budget considerations, there may need to be some compromises before a final decision can be made. If you are considering installing a new playground at your school ESP Play offer a free playground design service which can help you make the best choices for your school. Alternatively, give us a call on 01282 43 44 45, we’ll be happy to help.

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