Why playgrounds are essential in primary schools

Marco Boi, Founder and CEO of PlayinnovationTM discusses the importance of playgrounds in primary schools.

Playground days live long in the memory. Who doesn’t remember the breaktime stampede as pupils squeeze their way through classroom doors to unleash their energy – whether swinging from the monkey bars (a teacher’s worst nightmare) or playing a game of imaginary, swashbuckling pirates – keeping feet off the tarmac as if it were crocodile-infested waters.

For most children at primary school, other than Physical Education lessons, playtime is the most active part of their day. It offers the chance to have fun, let off steam, build friendships, follow their interests and, importantly, relax away from lessons, which is good for their mental health and wellbeing.Marco Boi shares his views on the importance of playgrounds

However, there’s much more to playgrounds than first meets the eye. Playgrounds have endless potential for developing children socially, emotionally and intellectually. On a basic level, they’re places for children to enjoy themselves outside of the classroom, but when you start to peel back the layers, they’re places for learning new skills, discovering hidden talents, building self-confidence, being mentally and physically stimulated, and expanding horizons. Absolutely essential for primary schools.

Children playing in playgroundBring Lessons to Life Outdoors

Keeping primary school pupils on task within the four walls of the classroom is a challenge at the best of times. After all, experts say that, typically, a child can concentrate well for three to five minutes for every year they’ve been alive. This means a five-year-old should be able to manage 15-25 minutes at a time. But, as every teacher knows, concentration is made all the more difficult when the sun’s beaming down outside and the lesson being taught requires a fair amount of focus (oh how we love the summer!

Thankfully, there’s a trick that all teachers can perform… Heading outside to the playground, and taking activities down to a more practical level, allows them to switch up the learning environment to make subjects more engaging and enjoyable for primary-aged pupils. What’s more, children’s concentration actually improves while learning outdoors.

When absorbed in outdoor activities, primary and secondary pupils tend to be much more focused on what they’re doing, avoiding the common classroom distractions and fidgeting that come from being sat down for long periods of time. Therefore, by integrating outdoor learning into their teaching practice, teachers can achieve even better outcomes for pupils; definitely something for headteachers to encourage.

One example is taking maths outdoors. Instead of teaching children to add up using the typical resources you’d find in a primary school’s classroom, why not play a target-based game in the playground, where children get to aim at objects and calculate their scores? It’s a great way to combine practical and intellectual skills to create a fun and engaging learning experience, and it’s a concept that can be applied to any area of the curriculum.  

Besides pupils, teachers also benefit from taking education outdoors. It not only helps them to stay fresh and enthusiastic about what they’re teaching by providing a welcome change of scenery, but it also offers them the opportunity to innovate and push boundaries; surely one of the things that gets every good teacher up in the morning! 

Boy playing basket ballPromote Inclusivity and Physical Activity

We tend to think of playgrounds as places where groups form, while other children are left standing at the peripheries trying to figure out what to do and how best to fit in, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Play is a social activity, and, therefore, by their very nature, playgrounds should also be inclusive. However, that’s not always the case, which is important for headteachers to address.

Playgrounds, at their very best, are places where every child – regardless of friendship groups, ages, abilities or confidence levels – can enjoy being active. In my mind, playgrounds are like their own ecosystems. They should be made up of multiple parts, all functioning together, to offer each pupil somewhere they can go to access physical activity. Too often, playgrounds are one dimensional; not offering the variety needed to achieve this. That’s why playground design and equipment selection is so vital.

For a child with low self-esteem, a playground consisting of one or two areas, where large groups amalgamate, can be very daunting. By creating a more segmented playground, you can offer different areas with different games, which can be played either individually or as part of a group, with graduated challenges and the ability to improve skills. Suddenly, you present a much greater opportunity for all primary school children to be actively involved in playtime to enjoy the social, emotional and intellectual benefits.

This is a large part of what inspired me to establish PlayinnovationTM, which creates educational, innovative and inclusive sport and play areas for schools, designed to inspire and engage pupils, while helping them to learn and develop a wide range of skills within a social environment. For more information, please visit: www.playinnovation.co.uk or contact me via marco.boi@playinnovation.co.uk