Let’€™s get physical

Active play is key to increasing physical activity but schools need to choose carefully when it comes to installing new play equipment

Poor diet, screen-based lifestyles and physical inactivity are having a catastrophic impact on the health and well-being of the UK population and are costing the NHS and wider economy billions of pounds every year.

With many children already obese before they even begin primary school, it has been widely claimed that this generation of children will have a lower life expectancy than their parents.

Tackling the obesity epidemic is one of the greatest societal challenges of the 21st century and experts agree that healthy lifestyle habits should start as early in a child’s life as possible. Despite the fact that parents and carers have responsibility for instilling healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle during their children’s earliest years, many are not doing so. As a result, schools are increasingly on the front line, dealing with the problems this presents.

The Association of Play Industries (API; www.api-play.org) is the lead trade body within the play sector, representing the interests of manufacturers, installers, designers and distributors of outdoor and indoor play equipment and safety surfacing. It campaigns at the highest levels for recognition of the value of play in policy.

Around 70 per cent of the API’s members supply the education market, designing, creating and installing learning and play spaces, multi-use games or play areas, play equipment and resources to schools and early years settings across the UK. Companies operating in this market are seeing increasing demand for playgrounds, play spaces and outdoor play equipment that encourage physical activity amongst children, not just during PE and sport, but in everyday school life too. Many schools are introducing a holistic approach to supporting healthy children by embedding a culture of physical activity into every aspect of school life, for instance, teaching and learning outdoors wherever possible, creating ‘garden and grow’ areas, becoming ‘forest schools’ or opening their playground outside school hours.

Recognition of the vital role of schools – and of active play – in improving child health was reflected recently when Sport England launched the Primary School Sport Facilities fund, an £18 million fund to help more schools provide high-quality sports facilities. Schools which currently have little or no outside space for PE or sports are expected to receive around £30,000 to spend on a range of specially created packages, tailored to their individual needs. Sport England says the fund will help provide outdoor multi-sport areas which can be used both inside and outside school hours. Information about the Primary School Sport Facilities fund can be found at: https://www.sportengland.org/our-work/children-and-young-people/primary-school-sport-facilities-fund/

API vice-chair Colin MacAdam says: “Active, outdoor play becomes part of a child’s ongoing lifestyle and is just as important as PE and sport in tackling child obesity. Investing in outdoor play equipment which promotes physical activity and movement skills is hugely important and we urge schools to use every opportunity to create a meaningful and lasting health legacy for children.”

Of course, as well as supporting physical development and movement skills, active outdoor play has a raft of benefits for children. There is plentiful evidence to support this from wide-ranging research organisations, academic institutions, play campaigning organisations, education and health organisations amongst others. Commonly cited benefits include:  

Emotional and behavioural benefits: provides freedom, choice and independence, reduces anxiety, improves concentration and focus, builds confidence and is particularly effective as a learning environment for boys and for those with special educational needs, helps children build resilience, experience challenge, deal with new situations and take risks in a positive way, enhances creativity, imaginative and role play, increases self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-respect.

Social benefits: encourages exploration and discovery, promotes team-work, problem-solving and leadership skills, enables children to develop social skills, meet new people and socialise with friends, enables children of all abilities and backgrounds to play together and provide opportunities for learning.

Physical benefits: improves and maintains physical and mental health, builds strength, resistance, co-ordination, spatial awareness and balance, increases brain and sensory development, improves sense of well-being and happiness.

Environmental: improves interaction with the natural world and promotes environmental citizenship.

More information about the evidence around the positive benefits of play can be found at: https://www.playengland.org.uk/resources/play-for-a-change-briefing.aspx

For schools looking to improve their outdoor space or playground or seeking practical ways to increase physical activity levels, the API is offers an invaluable first port of call. Drawings of playgrounds and play equipment can sometimes look alike to customers, but the reason that cut-price operators can deliver cheaper deals is because they are likely to be compromising on quality, standards, materials and safety. For peace of mind, ask for evidence of API membershipAsking for evidence of API membership is a means of checking that any given company has a track record of high-quality provision.

The API membership badge is a quality mark and is firm proof that a play company is experienced, reputable, financially secure and stable, operates to the highest standards and abides by the association’s strict Pprofessional Ccode of Cconduct. API member companies are the UK’s leading experts in play provision and understand the unique needs, demands and pressures that schools face. They will always provide a bespoke play solution that meets a school’s specific objectives, based on a visit from a highly-skilled consultant, never an ‘off-the-shelf’ package.

Whether it’s a complete playground transformation to provide a multi-use games or play area (MUGA/MUPA), an outdoor classroom for all-weather learning or an update to existing space or equipment, API members will make design recommendations based on expert knowledge and experience. They will be a trusted partner throughout the installation process, including high-quality after care, inspection and maintenance advice.     

The API website is an essential first port of call, providing provides a wide range of helpful advice, resources and links on fundraising, planning and project guidance, design and risk, as well as and full details for every member company.


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