Why do schools need playgrounds, and how does it impact learning?

In today’s modern learning environment, schools are responsible for not only educating children but also developing valuable life skills to help successfully navigate adulthood. Alongside modern classrooms, school playgrounds play a significant role in this. We explore why schools need playgrounds and their impact on learning and development.

The importance of play

Play has an important role in supporting children’s learning and development. Play is often seen as children’s work, and for good reason. Providing access to play in early years offers many benefits and opportunities for children to learn about themselves and the world around them.

Extensive research on the importance of play indicates that providing access and exposure to outdoor learning environments is essential. Outdoor play opportunities positively impact children’s mental and physical health, motor skills, and even their immune system.

Play also allows children to develop their skills and understanding of how things work that teaching cannot provide. Children gain skills and knowledge through play, including self-control, creative thinking, problem-solving, and social skills.

Studies have indicated the extent to which access to play in early years affects later life. Children with more access to play are more likely to achieve higher grades, gain a degree, and earn higher yearly earnings.

Play must be unstructured, voluntary, and pleasurable for children to receive the most benefit. Providing a playground space with different play opportunities can ensure this while offering a sense of engagement.

Discover more about the need for play and its impact on children’s development

Why do schools need playgrounds?

Despite the importance of play, school playgrounds are often one of the most overlooked and neglected learning spaces. Despite this, there are many reasons why schools need playgrounds.

Provides many learning opportunities

Play is a great way for children to learn and develop many skills and experiences, particularly in open spaces like playgrounds. Playgrounds provide the perfect learning environment for developing cognitive, social, physical, and communication skills.

One principle of designing playgrounds to improve learning is variety. Providing a diverse and varied playground space gives children more opportunities to develop and experiment with learning through play.

Breaking away from traditional swings and slides is vital for providing more playground learning opportunities. Instead, playgrounds will need to include a range of elements or playground equipment that stimulate children’s minds and encourage creative and inspired play.

Encourages physical activity

The difference between a neglected playground and an exciting and appealing playground can significantly impact usage. It can also affect the level of physical activity. More appealing playgrounds will likely see an increase in physical activity.

Research has identified that increased physical activity and exercise have many positive effects on children’s health. Incorporating different playground features that stimulate children’s imagination can help get them moving.

Some health benefits children can experience from increased physical activity are reduced stress and anxiety, increased muscle development, improved cardiovascular health, and stronger bones. Immune systems can also benefit from increased physical activity.

Improved academic performance

Research shows a strong correlation between children who are active during break times and their academic performance. This research suggests children are 20% more likely to achieve top grades in maths and English.

Playgrounds allow children to engage with the world they learn about in the classroom. They also provide the ideal environment for resting and refreshing their brains. This puts children in a much better mindset for continuing learning.

Different play experiences can also help children gain much more confidence in their skills and abilities, which is reflected in the classroom. As a result, students’ perseverance and dedication to learning increases.

Improves mental health

In recent years, there has been a sharp rise in anxiety and depression. The same is true for children. One of the biggest reasons for this rise in mental health problems among children is a lack of access to outside play spaces.

It’s not just sunshine and vitamin D that help boost a child’s mental health. The ability to play and learn without constraints or rules allows children to be creative and imaginative, and to play where and how they want. The interaction and engagement with their peers also help improve mental health.

Builds a stronger connection to nature

Children living in urban cities often struggle to develop a connection with nature. Playground spaces provide a perfect opportunity for children to nurture this connection.

School playgrounds get children outside and encourage them to develop a connection with, and respect for, the natural world. Nature-inspired playgrounds, in particular, provide a strong opportunity for connecting with nature.

These playgrounds incorporate natural features or organic materials to create a space that closely mimics the natural world. Schools with limited access to natural environments can benefit most from a nature-inspired playground.

Learn and develop skills

Children can gain many different skills through using a school playground space. Some of the most important skills children can learn and develop through play include:

  • Problem-solving
  • Fine and gross motor skills
  • Communication and language skills
  • Creativity
  • Teamwork and leadership
  • Critical thinking

How do playgrounds and play impact learning?

A playground space and access to play can positively impact learning in several ways.

Firstly, it improves concentration and memory. The increase in physical activity from play supplies more oxygen to the brain, which helps develop the brain’s memory and learning areas. The nerve connection boost also helps improve memory and attention span.

Secondly, children can focus on tasks and learning for longer. Kids naturally have a shorter attention span, making it difficult to focus and concentrate on learning without getting distracted. Providing opportunities for play can give children’s minds a break, allowing them to focus better when in the classroom.

Another way playgrounds and play can impact learning is by reducing disruptive behaviours. Teachers are estimated to spend an average of 2.4 hours a week dealing with disruptive behaviours.

Lack of physical activity and long learning periods are often the biggest causes of disruptive behaviour. Providing a playground allows children to burn off energy rather than allowing it to build up. This can help reduce disruptive behaviour in the classroom.

Finally, the increase in academic performance is another reason playgrounds and play impact learning. Children can build skills and confidence through play, which is reflected in their learning efforts.

As children become more accustomed to trying new things during play and challenging themselves, the same is true for their learning. The endurance and persistence children can gain through play also have a positive impact on improving academic performance.

How can you ensure your playground positively impacts learning?

Here are just some of the ways you can ensure your playground positively impacts learning:

  • Encourage different types of play, such as active, sensory, and creative play.
  • Incorporate a sense of place into the design that matches the school community.
  • Spark children’s curiosity by incorporating playground elements with different uses.
  • Add in secrets and surprises for children to discover.
  • Create a good flow that connects the playground together and encourages exploring.
  • Utilise different zones or areas for varying atmospheres or activities.
  • Remember that playgrounds provide a safe place to play, not just to look good.
  • Consider inclusive play in your playground design.
  • Always seek to incorporate nature or natural elements

School playgrounds play a vital role in the success of modern learning spaces. Not only do the opportunities for play help improve learning, but they also provide valuable skills for both childhood and adulthood.

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All images from Playground Centre