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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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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