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.

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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.

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How to Keep Pupils Safe in the Playground During Winter

The risk of injury in the schoolyard increases dramatically during the winter months when snow, ice and frost create hazardous conditions. Winter weather can make playground surfaces and outdoor play equipment very slippery and cause damage which needs to be quickly repaired. At the same time, children need to learn to behave and dress appropriately for the weather conditions they encounter. In this post, we’ll look at some of the ways to improve safety in the winter playground.

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Watch out for slippery surfaces

Almost all playground surfaces are at risk from ice in one way or another. This even includes some loose-fill surfaces, like wood mulch and loose gravel which can create hard, solid surfaces when insufficient drainage causes them to freeze over. A more effective and long-term solution would be to use rubber mulch which cannot freeze. However, effective drainage is essential for all surfaces to reduce the potential for freezing, so if water isn’t draining away adequately, you may need a more detailed inspection to discover the cause so that it can be rectified.

Ice isn’t just caused by freezing water, it can also be caused by compacted snow. In the playground, this can be particularly hazardous as the more children walk on snow, the icier and more slippery it becomes – especially when the more dare-devil children start turning it into a slide. The best remedy to stop snow being turned into ice is to be proactive and grit the surfaces whenever snow is forecast. This will prevent snow from settling so it cannot be compacted. However, if ice has formed, the safest solution is to stop the surface being used until the ice has melted away. Equipment should also be tested for ice, especially climbing equipment which may need to be taken out of use in icy conditions.

One final thing you should remember is that when water turns to ice, it expands. When this happens between two surfaces, the force the expansion exerts can cause damage or erosion. The tiny gaps in asphalt and tarmac surfaces are particularly vulnerable to this form of erosion and this is why you might see potholes and loose patches of gravel after the thaw. Not only will these become worse with heavy use; they are also potential trip hazards and should be repaired quickly in order to reduce risk and cost. Newer forms of hard surfaces, like resin bound gravel, use resin as protection against freeze-thaw erosion and are therefore safer and more weather-resistant.

Get rid of snow

Although snow feels soft, it should never be considered as an adequate surface to leave under elevated play equipment like climbing frames as its slipperiness increases the risk of injury to those who land on it. Similarly, pupils are more likely to bump into equipment with snow around it or fall off structures that have snow on them. If feasible, snow should be brushed off all equipment and shovelled away from the playground surface underneath. Even once this has happened, the equipment should still be inspected to ensure it is safe enough to use, as residual water can still be a slip hazard. Remember to check things like the ladder rungs, handrails, hanging bars, balance beams, platforms, slides, stepping beams and landing areas. This is particularly important on balancing and climbing equipment where there are no additional handrails.

Managing the children

Pupils can be a hazard to themselves in wintery conditions and it is important that adequate supervision is on-hand at all times, especially around busy areas and elevated apparatus. While snowballing is permitted in some schools, this should never be the case if snow has frozen and become dangerously hard and never near windows (broken glass is almost impossible to find in snow) or near those playing on climbing equipment. Pupils should also be discouraged from running on snow as it not only increases the risk of falling, there are also more chances for collisions to occur.

While pupils should be suitably attired for outdoor play during the poor winter weather, some items of clothing can increase the risk of injury when children are playing on certain types of equipment. Gloves, for example, prevent children from safely gripping jungle bars or traversing walls, while dangling scarves and drawstrings can get caught up in some apparatus.

Finally, to prevent hazards being taken from the playground to the school building, ensure there are mats at the entrances for children to wipe their feet. Wet corridors and staircases can also be very slippery.

Conclusion

As you can see, winter weather can present a number of potential hazards to children in the playground. Hopefully, the suggestions made here will help you ensure your pupils stay safe.

If you are looking for safer surfaces for your outdoor play areas, check out our playground surfacing page.

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How Schools Can Help Tackle Mental Health

A recent poll by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has shown that twice as many schools in England, 66%, are having to commission professional support and in-school counselling compared to 2016. Despite mental health being a high priority for the UK government, schools face growing numbers of pupils with mental health issues while support services are increasingly hard to procure. In this post, we’ll look at ways that schools can help tackle mental health in-house.

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A whole-school approach

One of the first ways a school can move forward is to develop a school-wide approach to positive mental health. This includes the mental health of all the community: pupils, staff and parents. Mental wellbeing needs to be embedded not just in the curriculum, but in the entire life of the school, including in classroom practice, rewards and sanctions, play/free-time management and in enabling a work-life balance for all. At the same time, schools should try to encourage behaviours and attitudes that improve wellbeing.

Designated mental health coordinator

Creating a designated role for mental health gives the issue the important status it needs at management level and means that a whole-school approach can be better coordinated. The person in charge will have the authority to implement best practice and procedure as well as to monitor progress and evaluate impact. It also means systems can be centralised, reducing the chance of invisible cases.

A designated coordinator can also be the face of mental wellbeing within the school, being the first point of call, while also supporting staff, parents and pupils. They can also be the representative of the school when liaising with support services or colleagues from other schools.

Mental health training

67% of schools now undertake mental health training for their staff and this is vital to increase awareness of the various types of disorder that pupils may be affected by. It helps teachers to identify signs of mental illness so that those with potential disorders are given speedier help, and it enables teachers to improve classroom practice so that general wellbeing is enhanced and that those with disorders can cope better during the school day.

Training, of course, can be implemented in several ways. Schools can invite professionals in to address the entire staff or individual teachers can attend courses out of school and then feedback to the rest of the staff at a later date. Local clusters may also have support groups who deliver training in your area.

One key area of training is how to deal with a child who is having a mental health crisis. The NAHT survey reported that only 44% of headteachers felt confident their school could deal with such a situation.

Enabling openness

The first step to getting help is telling someone about your mental wellbeing. In schools, there are three hurdles which need addressing to enable this to happen. First of all, children need the language skills to enable them to talk about their problems. They need to know how to express their feelings so that they can tell their friends or their teachers what is happening to them. If a child lacks the ability to articulate how they feel, they may be unable to seek help.

Secondly, schools need to do everything they can to remove the stigma of mental health. This might not be such a major issue for younger children, but as they get older and more self-conscious, fear of other people finding out can make issues worse and prevent help being sought. This is equally true of staff who may also fear that their jobs are at risk if they come forward.

Finally, people need someone to tell. Although the mental health coordinator is perhaps the first port of call for serious concerns, all members of the community should be encouraged to support others, whether it is a friend, a pupil or a colleague.

Fun, outdoor exercise

The school playground can play an important role in improving mental wellbeing. Simply getting outside into the fresh air and away from the classroom is a natural mood-lifter in itself. However, if free time is made fun, it can help with issues of anxiety and depression and counteract the stress which classwork puts children under. That, of course, means equipping your playground with apparatus that will engage pupils in fun activities, whether that’s playing football, roleplay, making mud pies or digging up a sandpit .

Even more beneficial for mental wellbeing is when children are provided with opportunities to engage in physical activity. Sports markings, climbing frames, outdoor gyms, etc. all help children to take part in moderate or strenuous activities which have been proven to help prevent serious mental health issues developing and which make it easier for those with existing conditions to cope.

Conclusion

With 12.8% of pupils suffering from a mental health condition and a lack of external help, all schools are under increasing pressure to cope. Hopefully, the ideas mentioned in this post will help your school improve provision for your pupils.

If you are looking to make breaktimes more fun and to encourage more children to participate in physical activity, check out our wide range of playground equipment.

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4 Ways to Tell if Your Playground Needs an Upgrade

All school playgrounds eventually need an upgrade. Years of heavy use and constant exposure to weathering means playground surfacing and equipment will, at some point, need replacing. At the same time, the priorities of schools change with new initiatives requiring outdoor spaces to be redeveloped to suit modern curricula and teaching methods. So, is your playground in need of an upgrade? In this post, we’ll discuss some of the things that will help you answer that question.

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1. Your playground has safety issues

If you have play equipment already installed in your outdoor spaces, you’ll be aware of the need to carry out regular inspections to ensure that everything is safe for your pupils. With daily visual inspections, monthly operational inspections and annual inspections from an independent RPII qualified inspector, schools should have a clear idea of whether existing equipment and surfaces are in good working order and present no risk to their students. If there are issues, however, then they need addressing quickly in order to prevent the potential of pupils coming to harm.

When it comes to health and safety, it is always better to be proactive than reactive. Rather than waiting for a piece of equipment to fail an inspection before replacing it, it is safer to upgrade it when it is getting towards the end of its lifecycle but is still safe to play on. Things to look out for are rusting or fatigued metalwork, broken or cracked plastics, loose fittings, worn, slippery or poor-draining surfaces and decaying timber.

2. Your outdoor equipment is tired and unappealing

Today’s classrooms and corridors are vibrant places designed to create stimulating and engaging learning environments. Children also need to be stimulated and engaged in the playground but this can be hard to achieve when the surfaces and equipment begin to look tired and lose their appeal. When playground markings wear away, sports fields become bare soil and once brightly coloured equipment is now ugly grey steel with odd patches of chipped, sun-bleached paint, such dilapidated outdoor spaces stand in stark contrast to the indoor environment and do little to motivate pupils to play or learn outside. If a playground looks past its best and too few children are making use of it, then it’s time for an upgrade.

3. Health and wellbeing not catered for

Today, improving health and wellbeing is often a primary reason for the decision to upgrade a playground. With 20% of year 6 pupils in 2018-2019 being obese and 12.8% of school-aged pupils suffering from a mental disorder, the UK has some serious health issues to tackle when it comes to young people. While physical exercise alone is not a panacea, it offers many benefits for both physical and mental wellbeing. Regular physical activity can help reduce obesity, prevent the onset of some mental disorders and assist those living with existing disorders to cope better.

Unfortunately, modern lifestyles mean few children get the hour of physical exercise that medical experts say they need every day to stay healthy. Often, the school playground is the only place where such an opportunity exists; though whether they take advantage of it depends to a great extent on the type of playground equipment available to them. Different pupils have different interests and to get them more active you need a range of equipment that will motivate even the most reluctant pupils.

4. No opportunity for outdoor learning

For young children at the beginning of their educational journey, outdoor play is a critical part of the learning process. For this reason, many EYFS providers strive to create playgrounds that offer a seamless transition between the indoor and outdoor areas, enabling learning to flow from one to the other without interruption. Indeed, playground designs that offer the opportunity to combine fun with the pursuit of learning are now highly popular.

The educational benefits of being outdoors, however, have not gone unnoticed by the teachers of older students and, today, outdoor classrooms are much sought after by both primary and secondary schools. While PE has always taken advantage of the school’s outdoor areas, modern playgrounds can now install subject specific equipment that is purposely designed to cover virtually every curriculum area.

Another sign that your school needs a playground upgrade is that it doesn’t provide suitable opportunities for learning. With so much equipment available and indoor space at a premium, it is an opportunity not to be missed, especially as pupils really enjoy learning outdoors.

Conclusion

When deciding if your school playground needs an upgrade, there are four basic questions you may wish to ask. Is your current playground safe for pupils? Does it provide a stimulating environment with fun equipment? Do the playground facilities offer opportunities to improve pupils’ health and wellbeing? Is your outdoor space adequately equipped as a place for learning? If the answer to any of these is no, then it may be time to consider an upgrade.

If you’re looking for inspiration, take a look at our wide range of outdoor play and learning equipment.

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5 Tips to Get Your School Playground Ready for Spring

Now we’re into the new year, it will only be a short time before the onset of spring. As this means your school’s outdoor spaces are going to get much more use than over the winter, it is a good time to prepare your play areas for the forthcoming season. In this post, we’ll give you some tips not just on getting the playground ready but also on sprucing it up.

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1. Inspect your playground

Although your playground and outdoor play equipment might not see much use during the winter months, they may take a bit of a battering from the bad weather. Heavy rain, strong winds, freezing temperatures and ice can all cause damage to surfaces, equipment, walls and fences. To make sure that everything is in a safe and working order, a detailed operational inspection is required. These can be carried out by school staff or by a qualified operational inspector.

The results of such an inspection will help determine whether any necessary repairs, replacements or maintenance needs to be done to ensure the space is fit for use.

2. Carry out regular maintenance tasks

All school grounds need some maintenance work following the winter period. This could include trimming hedges, reseeding grassed areas, annual timber treatments, repainting chipped surfaces and tightening loose fixtures. Getting these done as early as possible helps to extend the longevity of your equipment, keeps them in good working order and makes the playground more appealing to play in.

3. Protect grassed areas

Grassed areas are very popular with children, they are great for sitting on during warm days and are ideal for playing a wide range of sports and games. However, as spring tends to be one of the wettest seasons, they can become very muddy, making them unfit for use and potentially a safety hazard.

There are two solutions for this. The first is to protect existing lawns with grass matting, a protective rubber mesh that enables grass to grow but prevents it from being eroded or becoming too muddy. This simple but effective solution makes grassed areas usable throughout the year. Alternatively, you can replace existing grassed areas or even create new ones using artificial grass. This creates a softer, multi-use surface that can be used in all weathers and which needs little maintenance.

4. Add some spring colour

Everyone loves spring but it’s hard to enjoy it at school when the environment lacks a touch of nature itself. This is easy to remedy. If you have green spaces, use them to plant spring favourites like croci, snowdrops, daffodils, bluebells and tulips. If you don’t have an existing green space, you can always buy a few planters and trellises that will bring a much-welcomed touch of greenery and colour to your schoolyard. If you want to encourage wildlife as much as plant life, you should also consider installing bird feeders or a bug house.

5. Equipment for the spring curriculum

Spring often plays a part in the academic curriculum with children learning about how plants grow, how the weather changes and even writing poetry or creating art about the rebirth of nature. If such topics are part of your curriculum calendar, then there are some useful pieces of outdoor equipment you may want to have installed once spring arrives.

The Switch Weather Station is an ideal way for children to carry out studies of the local weather. With a built-in barometer, hydrometer, thermometer and water gauge, as well as ways to record cloud cover and wind strength, it lets pupils examine a wide range of weather features in a hands-on way.

Another great resource is the Discovery Planter which allows children to examine and measure how plants grow in various conditions including letting them see what’s happening beneath the soil. This works perfectly with the investigation table where children can analyse and measure what they find in an area of the ground.

Finally, as spring is often the time when children are asked to plant a seed and measure how it grows, the Growing Tree has been specially designed as somewhere outside where you can house all those plant pots. Indeed, if you are looking at growing a variety of plants, including vegetables and the ever-popular sunflower, there are a variety of growing boxes and digging pits you can also use.

Conclusion

The onset of spring will see your playground and outdoor spaces coming back into full use, not only as somewhere to play but as a place for learning. To make sure they are ready, it is a good idea to start planning now. Hopefully, the tips provided here will make sure your outdoor areas are safe, well maintained, pleasant to be in and fully equipped for all the things you want to use them for.

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