The Importance of Outdoor Play for Key Worker and Vulnerable Children

The latest lockdown means that for the first few months of 2021, the only pupils attending school are vulnerable children and the children of key workers. While schools must maintain effective social distancing measures to reduce the risk of infection from the new variant of COVID-19, ensuring that those children get the chance for outdoor play is also vitally important. Here’s why.

Vitamin D and COVID-19

According to a recent article in The Guardian, many doctors believe that vitamin D can help people’s ability to fight respiratory infections, like Coronavirus. Indeed, some even wrote to the British Medical Journal describing vitamin D as ‘a potential, significant, feasible Covid-19 mitigation remedy’. After a number of convincing medical trials during the pandemic, in November, Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, ordered Nice and Public Health England to produce recommendations on vitamin D for the treatment and prevention of coronavirus.

While vitamin D is not a panacea for COVID-19, there’s a growing body of evidence that shows it helps the human body’s immune system to fight it. The problem for most of the UK population is that, particularly in winter when we get less exposure to sunlight, we are vitamin D deficient. While some foodstuffs are fortified with vitamin D  and we can take supplements, the natural way to increase the amount of vitamin D we have is through being outside. Even on cloudy, winter days, sunlight hitting our skin causes our bodies to produce it.

For those children still attending school during the third lockdown, the ability to go outside is extremely limited and playtimes offer their best chance of sunlight exposure. Giving them adequate time in the playground, even if socially distanced, can help bolster their immune systems.

Improving mental health

The impact of the lockdown on the mental health of school children has been constantly in the news and is one of the major reasons so many educationalists and health professionals are reluctant to see schools closed. Closeted in their homes from April to September and rarely allowed to socialise with their friends, many struggled with their mental health, with increasing numbers developing depression and anxiety. While there was some relief from this when schools opened in September, this now has come to an end for the foreseeable future and children will once again suffer.

The importance of giving vulnerable children and the children of key workers time for social activities in school cannot be underestimated. The ability to play and chat together, even if from a distance, allows them to reinforce friendships, discuss each other’s problems and have some much-missed opportunities to do enjoyable things - all of which can help improve mental health.

Restoring physical health

While some pupils will be making the most of their daily exercise allowance, the majority probably won’t. Over the last year, they will have already missed out on a significant amount of exercise, whether that’s just walking to school and back every day, playing with their friends, taking part in PE lessons or out of school activities. As a result, the physical health of school-aged children, nationwide, will have suffered, with them being physically weaker, less fit and at even greater risk of obesity. This, too, can make them more susceptible to infection.

Those still able to attend school, therefore, should be encouraged to participate in moderate to intense physical activity as often as possible. Ideally, they need an hour of moderate exercise every day. The pandemic, however, means some kinds of exercise are off-limits as school risk assessments may prevent the use of certain kinds of playground equipment or activities. This may limit physical exercise to games played at a distance or to activities like the Daily Mile.

That said, under the current lockdown restrictions the government has decided to keep public playgrounds open for children. This includes, according to the Gov.uk website, equipment such as slides, monkey bars, climbing frames, activity towers, swings and sandpits. These pieces of equipment are also installed in many school playgrounds and, if adequate social distancing and hygiene protocols are followed, might provide school children with the opportunity to take part in more enjoyable forms of active play.

Conclusion

While vulnerable children and the children of keyworkers can attend school, teachers have the potential to offer them vital outdoor provision. This will enable them to increase vitamin D levels to boost their immune system, socialise and participate in free play to improve mental health and take part in moderate physical activity to restore physical health and fitness to where it was before the pandemic began.

For information about our range of playground equipment, visit our Products page.

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