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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Practical Solutions to Help Schools Teach PE in the Playground

For schools with limited outdoor space, it can be difficult to find the room to have a playground and somewhere dedicated to teaching PE. However, there are solutions and these come from turning your playground into a multi-use space that can be permanently equipped for both PE and play. In this post, we’ll look at a number of the possible solutions you can use.

Starting from the ground up

When planning your multi-use outdoor playground/PE space, you need to consider the ways the surface will be used during both lessons and break times. You obviously want something which will be safe for all kinds of activities and which lends itself to the wide number of activities you may wish to teach.

There are a number of possible playground surfacing solutions here. One of the most popular options is wetpour surfacing which gives a cushioned rubber surface that protects against injury but still has the necessary firmness to play all kinds of sports. Alternatively, you can opt for artificial grass which is ideal for sports and never needs cutting.

Defining the sports pitches and courts

Once you have established the best type of playground surfacing for your needs, the next stage of the process is to look at the type of sports your PE curriculum covers. If possible, you should try and dovetail this to match the kinds of sports your pupils will to want to play during breaktimes. Finding common ground here, will enable you to provide facilities which children will get the most benefit from.

After making your decision, you can then select the necessary playground markings to have installed. There is a wide variety to choose from and they are all suitable for the surfaces mentioned above and can also be installed on your existing hard surfaced playground. Here at ESP Play, we can provide the markings for football, futsal (five-a-side football), netball, rounders, basketball, tennis and cricket. For those particularly short of space, it is possible to create a multi-sports area by overlaying markings for different sports using different colours.

These markings enable PE staff to teach these sports whilst letting children have the fun of playing them during break times.

Choose playground markings for skills training

There is also a wide range of markings available for teaching important physical skills. These can be used for improving balance, endurance, coordination, footwork, hurdles, and a range of ball skills. Our ‘Famous Five’ multi-skills markings are a particular favourite amongst PE teachers.

Equip your playground

After selecting your markings, you can then proceed to equip your multi-use playground for your selected sports. This sports equipment includes goals (with nets or recesses), basketball and netball hoops. In addition, there is multi-sports equipment, such as our combined football - hoop units which are ideal for football, five-a-side, hockey, netball and basketball.

There is also a range of equipment that can be used for training and even for additional sports. These include freestanding ball catchers, ball walls for practicing football, tennis and cricket, and a range of colourful wall targets. There are even climbing walls.

Add features for developing strength and stamina

A key purpose of PE is to develop the physical fitness of your pupils. At the same time, we all want to encourage pupils to be more active during breaktimes. One of the ways to achieve both these aims is to add an outdoor gym section to your playground.

At ESP Play, we have the ideal solution in the AllGo+ Gym. This is a safe to use, outdoor gym that uses body weight only to help pupils develop their strength and stamina. It’s ideal for fitness classes, circuit training and for children to use during their free time. It can also be hired out to local fitness groups.

The equipment provided in the AllGo+ range includes monkey bars, circle steps, press up bars, leg risers, flat and inclined sit-up benches, step up stations and fast feet floor markings.     

Curriculum resources

Of course, if you are developing your playground to use for outdoor PE, you may also need some curriculum resources as well. The resources currently available include a range of interchangeable activity boards. You can choose from a plain whiteboard or ones which are designed for specific activities, such as yoga, dance, movement, skills keywords and a scoreboard.

Conclusion

As you can see, if your short of space for PE and need to use your playground, it is possible to do so. What’s more, equipping your PE space in the right way can make a huge difference to the range of activities your pupils can do during breaktimes. This can help motivate them to become much more active and healthier whilst having fun at the same time.

Hopefully, the ideas here will help you understand what you can do in your playground. Here at ESP Play, we have everything you need to create your multi-use PE area/playground from the ground up. For more information, take a look at our sports equipment.

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Best Outdoor Playground Equipment for Schools

UK school playgrounds have undergone something of a revolution in the last few years. Gone are the days when children were hoofed out on to dull asphalted yards with nothing more to entertain them than a ball and a skipping rope.

Today, schoolyards are far more vibrant and exciting, and this is all possible because of the wide range of playground equipment available, including different varieties of surfacing, playground markings, play equipment and even resources to create exciting outdoor classrooms.

So, if your school playground still looks like a throwback to the middle of the last century, as in the 1940s image above, we hope these products will give you an idea of how you can make yours fit for the 21st-century child.

Safest playground flooring

Traditionally, school playgrounds are surfaced with asphalt or tarmac. Whilst these are hardy surfaces, their hardness can lead to health and safety risks such as cuts, bumps and grazes. During snowy or icy weather, they can also become very slippery, putting pupils and staff at risk of more serious injury. If you intend to modernise your playground and are considering climbing equipment, hard surfaces create a risk for those who may fall.

Today, there is a range of different playground surfaces to choose from and it is possible to create different zones each with a different type of surface. For safety, however, the ideal solution would be to install wetpour surfacing. This soft surfacing solution is made from resin bound recycled tyre crumbs and, while firm enough to walk and play on, is able to cushion children when they fall, reducing the likelihood of injuries. Wetpour surfacing can also be installed in a variety of colours to give your playground a more exciting feel.

Most useful playground markings

There are a plethora of playground marking available and they can be used for all sorts of purposes: traditional games, literacy and numeracy development, sports skill training and much more.

Perhaps the most useful, and one of ESP Play’s most popular playground markings, are the multicourt markings. Ideal for small playgrounds, a multicourt creates three sports courts in one area: futsal (like 5-a-side football), netball and basketball. This is done by overlaying the markings for each sport in different colours.

A multicourt enables pupils to play fitness enhancing sports together during break and lunchtimes and can also be used during PE lessons or for inter-school competitions. Nets and goals are also available.

Healthiest sports equipment

Today’s schools are spoiled for choice when it comes to playground sports equipment, from full-sized artificial pitches to ball walls, basketball nets, soccer goals and even outdoor table tennis. However, if you want to take pupil fitness to the next level, then our outdoor AllGo+ Gym is a must.

The gym equipment, which uses body weight only, comprises a range of different pieces of which you can mix and match to suit your own needs. These include: press up and pull up bars, flat and inclined sit-up benches, monkey bars, leg risers, step markers and circles steps. Made from wood, they are less expensive, safer and easier to maintain than steel alternatives.

Best playground seating and furniture

playground seating

Outdoor seating and furniture have long been neglected in schools. When they’re installed, they give children places to sit, chat and eat lunch. When you buy picnic benches, you are also getting the seating resources for an outdoor classroom and reducing the pressure for space in the canteen.

If you want the ultimate outdoor seating solution, check out the ESP Play octagonal shelter with solid sides, seating and decking. This large shelter provides lots of seating, protection from the wind and rain and can be used for outdoor lessons and as a mini performance area as well as for use by children during break times.

Most exciting outdoor play equipment

Great outdoor play equipment needs to fulfil a number of roles. It should give children something entertaining to do, stimulate physical activity and encourage them to play together. At ESP Play, we have a variety of equipment types which do this. These include imaginative play equipment, sand and water play, trim trails, play towers, and climbing equipment.

Perhaps the most exciting new product we have is our Freeflow modular climbing equipment. Designed to excite and challenge students whilst keeping them active and healthy, it’s the ideal obstacle course for children and one which you can add to as and when your budget allows.

Conclusion

As you can see, outdoor playground equipment has come a long way and for good reasons. A well-equipped playground helps children stay active, learn new skills, develop relationships and enjoy school more. It can even have positive effects on mental health, behaviour and progress. In this sense, updating your playground is much more than giving kids something to do at break times, it’s an investment in their future wellbeing.

For more information about the wide range of outdoor playground equipment available at ESP Play, visit our homepage.

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