Social, Emotional Mental Health is of high priority across the UK and is a key topic of discussion amongst education and health services. Alarmingly, it is documented by Young Minds and the DfE that ‘one in ten children and young people aged 5 to 16 has a clinically diagnosed mental health disorder’; this translates to approximately 3 children in every classroom. Schools are seeing a rise in the number of children who are struggling with their attention within academic activities and many are now employing members of staff to specifically support children with their mental health within the school day.
Whilst physical activity cannot prevent the experiences which cause some of these mental health disorders in children, it can support them in developing the resilience to deal with their emotions during trying times. The World Health Organisation discusses the benefits of physical activity for young people’s bodies as well as for their minds:
“Physical activity has also been associated with psychological benefits in young people by improving their control over symptoms of anxiety and depression. Similarly, participation in physical activity can assist in the social development of young people by providing opportunities for self-expression, building self-confidence, social interaction and integration. It has also been suggested that physically active young people more readily adopt other healthy behaviours (eg. avoidance of tobacco, alcohol and drug use) and demonstrate higher academic performance at school.”
60 minutes of physical activity
Chief Medical Officer guidelines recommend at least 60 minutes of ‘moderate-to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily for children, 30 minutes of which should be within school hours. With the constant pressures of raising standards in line with the ever-rising government expectations, it can be a challenge for schools to find the time to provide opportunities for recommended amounts of daily physical activity. Fortunately, more schools are now beginning to see the benefits of increased outdoor learning and physical activity for their students and working hard to make the most of any occasions to encourage and increase active play.
A fundamental period of development in any child is from 0-5 years; during these years, children’s sensory and exploratory experiences support the development of their neural pathways and each new encounter ensures that they learn how to deal with different situations. Not only does physical activity help young children to develop the physical skills related to walking, jumping, climbing and hand-eye coordination, it also provides opportunities for risk, challenge and problem solving. These opportunities can ensure that children develop self-confidence and self-esteem and provide numerous opportunities for social interaction through play. It is important, however to remember that these experiences should not stop at the end of the EYFS. Children of all ages can benefit from social, emotional and physical development, all of which can be achieved through various types of physical activities.
How schools can help
The opportunities for physical activity afforded to every child are very different: some children live in the countryside and have daily access to outdoor spaces, some live in more urban settings and might have just a small garden or local park to visit, other children may live in a high-rise flat with no local amenities and some families may not have the time or the resources to take their children to local clubs or parks. For some children, it is therefore even more important to have these physical, active opportunities within their setting and making the most of every outdoor space and breaktime can have a significant impact on their levels of fitness and well-being. The enjoyment of traversing along a Playground Adventure Trail or climbing and exploring on a Play Tower can ensure that all children are being afforded similar physical and social development opportunities.
Physical activity doesn’t just take place in PE lessons
As children get older, it can become more commonplace for planned or structured physical activity to only take place during the school day in PE lessons. Breaktimes for KS1 and 2 are a great opportunity to provide children with the chances to develop their physical skills but also to support problem solving, social interaction and to promote healthy competition. The Daily Mile Track provides a fantastic chance in the day for children to engage in high intensity physical activity and has shown children’s attainment and interest in their own well-being is much increased. Children’s Gym Equipment offers children the chance to develop strength and coordination, as well as challenging them to reach their goals and achieve their own personal targets.
Team sports have been a part of our society from ancient times and they continue as a large part of our culture because of the vast enjoyment that they bring to both participants and spectators. Team sports can have a great impact on our mental health for many different reasons, such as the friendships that can be created with people of similar interests, the impact they can have on self-esteem and the obvious links to increased levels of fitness. Working as part of a team can have an astonishing effect on children’s well-being, attitudes to school and their behaviour. Including a Multi-Use Games Area for children to access during P.E., at breaktimes or during clubs, can provide a fantastic arena for team sports and games.
Physical activity provides such a wealth of benefits for everyone and is now becoming a key priority across Government, Education and Mental Health initiatives; schools and local communities can have such a huge part to play in supporting children of all ages, providing opportunities for them to improve their SEMH through fun, physical activity.
Visit www.mind.org.uk for more information on how physical activity and sport can greatly improve mental health. They share that: ‘being active lifts your mood and gives you a sense of being in control and in touch with other people.’ All young people suffering from mental health issues just want to feel in control and know that they are not alone. Why not educate your pupils on the benefits of physical activity, by visiting https://www.bbc.com/education/guides/zpmq6fr/revision/3. This informative website for children clearly summarizes, with ‘bitesize’ information, how physical activity enhances their health and wellbeing. The blog http://semh.co.uk/ has been created to support staff to improve the provision for children with SENH needs within their setting and offers practitioners lots of useful advice and strategies.
It doesn’t take large pieces of land or sprawling fields to create fantastic opportunities for physical activity. Seeking advice from our playground design team at Schoolscapes can provide a range of inspiring and innovative solutions to suit your school’s unique space and requirements. Our designers are playground experts and we will offer advice and support with both design and funding ideas and transform your playground dreams into reality, saving your staff valuable time. Your educational setting can help to enrich your children’s well-being just through maximizing the chances children have to engage in physical activity! So… get children outdoors, get them active, improve their social, emotional and mental health and have fun at the same time!