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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Guide to Creating an Inclusive School Playground

Five percent of children in the UK are disabled and many of these find themselves excluded from outdoor play activities because school playgrounds are not designed with inclusion in mind. In this post, we’ll discuss what practical steps schools need to take to create a truly inclusive playground for all pupils.

Why you need an inclusive playground

Outdoor play brings benefits of all kinds: it improves physical and mental health, promotes personal development and encourages better social interaction. However, some children are denied these opportunities because the design of the playground or the equipment on offer creates a barrier for them. Pupils who use a wheelchair, for example, may face accessibility issues whereas autistic pupils might find busy spaces overbearing. A truly inclusive playground would ensure that all pupils could participate in outdoor play.

Guidelines for creating an inclusive school playground:

1. Accessibility

The first thing one should consider when looking at playground accessibility is whether children can get into and move around the space with ease. For this, pathways need to be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, be smooth and have gentle inclines to raised areas.

Not only should pathways enable children to get in and move around with ease, they should also help children in wheelchairs and those who have difficulty walking get directly to any of the equipment. Ideally, when creating the playground, you should locate popular equipment near the playground entrance or close to any pathway.

If your site contains any high points, such as mounds, raised stages or climbing equipment, wheelchair access should be provided. For those pupils who are unable to access this type of equipment, you need to provide the opportunities for them to get close so that they can continue being with friends. If they are taking part in a roleplay, for example, they can still be part of the activity even if not using the equipment itself.

Another important consideration is playground surfacing. Some surfacing materials make it much easier for wheelchair users to move around on whilst others provide safer surfaces to fall on. Make sure you use the most appropriate surface for each area of your playground.

Finally, if you use any signs in your outdoor playground, make sure that these are placed at a height where wheelchair users can read them (around one metre above the ground) and have them written in simple to understand text or use easy to understand symbols. If you have pupils who are blind, Braille should be used too.

2. Sensory Play

Outdoor Playground Music Equipment

Sensory play should be an essential element of an inclusive playground. All children, regardless of ability, are fascinated by touch, sound, smell and visual stimulation and creating an area where everyone can enjoy these things together goes a long way towards inclusivity.

For sight and visual stimulation, install body warping mirror boards or equipment with a variety of shapes and textures. Installing planters enables you to grow flowers which are both brightly coloured and which offer a variety of scents.

Sound stimulation can easily be achieved through the use of child-friendly, outdoor musical equipment, such as chimes, drums, washboards, xylophones and talking tubes, whilst one of the best ways to offer tactile stimulation is through sand and water play. Here at ESP Play, for example, we have a range of water and sand play equipment which also includes a variety of mud kitchens.

3. Imaginative, Individual and Social Play

school story telling area special offer

An inclusive playground needs to have an open space where children can participate in imaginative play together. Some of this space should, ideally, be free from any equipment and be suitably surfaced so that children can use the area to move around easily. However, to encourage children to participate and socially interact, it helps to have imaginative outdoor play equipment installed nearby.

At the same time, there also needs to be a space where children who find the hustle and bustle of a busy playground overwhelming can go for some much-needed quiet time. Nature areas shielded off with trellises and located further away from the loudest areas are the best solutions. There is a range of great nature resources available to help create a calm area in your playground. However, if this is not possible, then consider installing smaller features across the playground such as play tunnels and seating huts where children can find respite.

4. Physical Play

Physical play is a great way to encourage social inclusion, enabling children who find it difficult to socially interact to join in activities and develop relationships with others. For this reason, an inclusive playground should provide equipment for group games and sports activities that can be accessed by all. If you install playground sports equipment, consider adapting it so that every child can use it. For example, if you have a basketball court, install a second set of nets at a height where wheelchair users can participate in shooting for goal.

When it comes to inclusive physical play, every child should be given the opportunity for challenge and risk and a range of suitable equipment, for example, large climbing structures, should be provided to meet the needs of all students. Children of all year groups, sizes and abilities should be catered for.

5. Seating & Tables

Seating in an inclusive playground should be placed at 20-metre intervals along pathways so that those who have difficulty walking can take regular rest stops if needed. It should also be placed near to the play equipment. For physical support, some playground seating should have back and arm rests and there should be space available next to the seating where wheelchair users can place their wheelchairs next to their friends.

Any tables that are provided should be high enough for a wheelchair user to put their legs underneath.  

Conclusion

As you can see from reading this article, there is a lot to consider when designing a playground that is truly exclusive. If you are looking for help in creating an exclusive playground for your school, call us on 01282 43 44 45 and we’ll be happy to help.

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How to Create a Forest School Style Environment in Your Playground

Forest schools are highly regarded centres that inspire pupils to develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning in a natural environment. Whilst many schools use these centres for one-off day trips, the benefits are limited because of the infrequency of visits and because only a small number of pupils get to go.

The ideal situation would be to have a suitable ‘natural environment’ area on your school premises where all children could have access to nature all year round. This way, everyone can take part and the benefits can be sustained.

Whilst some schools are lucky enough to have such an area within their grounds, many do not. However, this does not mean you cannot go some way to creating a natural environment. In this post, we’ll explain how this can be achieved.

Identifying an Area

playground seating

The first thing you need to do is identify the part of your school premises which you want to use for your forest school nature area. Ideally, it will be a place which has the following qualities:

  • It is naturally grassed. (There are ways around this if needed.)
  • It can be sectioned off from the playground and reserved for special use.
  • It gets sunlight.
  • It has sufficient space for your needs. (How many children will you want to have access at any one time?)
  • If it already has established trees, even better.

Getting The Right Groundworks

The best ground on which to create a natural environment is one which has soil and grass. This way you have the right environment for planting and for attracting the fauna that lives in the soil and grass.

If this is lacking, there are two alternatives. You can create raised beds on top of hard surfacing which can then be turfed over, or you can use a different type of playground surfacing, such as rubber mulch, in combination with a series of planters

Installing Trees

For a real forest school environment, you should plant trees in your nature area. Trees encourage a much wider ecosystem to develop, they create shading and they make the area look far more natural rather than simply garden-like.

If you have a naturally grassy area, it may be possible to plant trees directly into the ground. However, this may be impractical if the roots are likely to cause problems with building works or if you are using raised beds. However, this does not mean you cannot have them.

Many trees will grow perfectly well and to a reasonable, manageable size in large, deep planters or pots. Doing this also enables you to install a range of different trees, such as a mix of conifers and deciduous trees. You may even want to plant trees which blossom in the spring or which fruit in late summer.

Encouraging Wildlife

One of the benefits of creating a forest school environment is enabling children to observe and learn about nature in its natural environment. To do this, you need to encourage wildlife to move into the area.

This can be achieved easily with a few simple pieces of equipment. For example, our insect habitats, ladybird towers, bird tables and butterfly boxes are great for encouraging birds and insects to your area. Add a small, shallow pond for frogs and newts and you are on your way.

Hide The School Walls

To create the impression that your forest school nature area is a little more secluded and away from the school building, you can install planters with trellises. These will enable you to plant climbers, tall shrubs or bushes that can create a green, living boundary that shields your area from the rest of the school.

When this is done, children visiting the nature area will really feel like they are leaving the school and entering a natural environment. This will enable them to feel more relaxed and better inclined to undertake the outdoor learning tasks you have prepared for them.

Add Some Plants

With lots of different planters to choose from, it is possible to plant a wide range of flora in your nature area. However, if you are trying to recreate a forest school environment, ideally, you should grow plants which are found within woodland areas: ferns, bluebells, wild garlic, nettles, primroses and foxgloves, for example.

Planting a range of flowers that bloom throughout the year can ensure there is always some colour in your area. You can also plant fruiting plants such as brambles. Adding a few old logs will also encourage interesting looking fungi to move in.

Equipping Your Forest School Area

To help children learn in your nature area, there is a range of equipment you can use. For example, you can install nature boards to help them identify different types of plants and wildlife or, for more detailed examination, you can also use an investigation table or a discovery planter.

Learning through play should also be encouraged and there is plenty of den making equipment you can use, together with hollow logs and crooked benches. At ESP Play we have an entire range of Wild Wood equipment, inspired by nature, which may be the ideal complement to your forest school.

Conclusion

Giving children access to a natural environment can benefit them in many ways, including improving their learning skills and social and emotional well-being. For most schools, providing children with such an environment is something that happens only occasionally, on school trips. However, from reading this article, you should have some idea how you can provide it for all children, all year round, even if your school lacks its own natural space.

If you are considering creating a forest school style nature area at your school, call us on 01282 43 44 45 and we’ll be happy to discuss how we can help.

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