Do we need school playgrounds or fields?

From an original blog post by CLARE ERASMUS, Director of Mental Health & Wellbeing & Head of Creative Media at staffrm.io – reproduced by kind permission.

When the DFE say,

Not all (future) school sites need playgrounds or field

– I hear alarm bells.

This week I was re-visiting the ‘Using Mental Health Standards’ publication and it opens with a description of the toxic climate our children are faced with…24/7 online culture…Information overload… globalisation…fast lifestyles. It states,”this climate has reduced understanding of, and engagement in, those opportunities for individuals and families to learn and play together and to flourish”

These lines resonated with me as our family had just returned from a cost effective 10-day camping break where we had finally extracted ourselves from this ‘toxic climate’. The improvement in our mental health and relationships with each other was tangible.

So, what was it that finally gave our family the opportunity to ‘learn and play together and to flourish’ again?

It was simple. Vast open green spaces.

All we had was our tent, trees and our imaginations. For my kids, it was slow to start with as they looked at the trees with a certain degree of disdain but before long they were lost in the woods building dens, conjuring up mystical worlds and we as adults not only rediscovered the child in us but also our children.

 

According to The Kings Funds, an independent charity working to improve healthcare in England, they provide ample of statistics that access to open spaces has direct and indirect impacts on people’s physical and mental health.

On their website, they state:

The proportion of green and open space is linked to self-reported levels of health and mental health for all ages and socio-economic groups through improving companionship, sense of identity and belonging and happiness.

And it goes on to state…..

However, people from more deprived areas have less access; children in deprived areas are nine times less likely to have access to green space and places to play.

This summer, I was delighted to read the press release from Gov.uk about the Natural Connections Demonstrations project, England’s largest outdoor learning project revealing that children were more motivated when learning outside – whether it was the local park or the school playing field.

The aim of the project was to offer students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds an opportunity to experience the full range of benefits that come from learning in local natural environments.

The Key findings were astoundingly positive about social skills, behavior, health and mental wellbeing.

It seemed we as educators had finally ‘got it’ and we as a nation were going to set about reclaiming our school fields; our connection with our natural world, closing the gap and tackling our mental health.

So, you can imagine my shock when I read that the DFE were seeking new sites for new free schools and they stated in their advert

not all school sites need playgrounds or fields.

It is important we stand firm on this principle and we continue to fight for our open spaces, keep our school fields and rediscover them with innovative outdoor learning projects and curriculums ensuring equal access for the benefit of ALL children’s mental and physical health.

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