Most parents and teachers know that it’s something of a challenge to get young people away from their screens and out into the fresh air. One survey shows that rules and the framework are crucial. “Children actually think that it’s absolutely fine to have rules about this. They need help to get going,” reveals SDU researcher
When seven out of ten children have a mobile phone before they are ten years old, that mobile is a huge rival to the school playground at break time. Many children and young people would rather stay sitting in the classroom than go outside and get some exercise. The Danish Health Authority generally recommends that children play and be active for at least 60 minutes a day.
“Being more active keeps your weight down and reduces the risk of many complications such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. It leads to good habits if the children are encouraged to be active at an early age. There are thus many health benefits to being active at break time, also because we can reach those kids who aren’t motivated to go to any activities outside of school. At school it’s really important to get outside, so you don’t get tired from learning, but instead give your brain an energy boost and become more motivated,” says Henriette Bondo Andersen, who is a postdoc at the Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU).
She is backed up by Hanne Larsen, who is the deputy headteacher at Skørping School:
“If school days are longer, you need a break to make it through.”
A survey from the Copenhagen Centre for Team Sport and Health at the University of Copenhagen also shows that exercise may boost children’s memories. So it was fortunate for the kids at Skørping School that they won the ‘Drøn På’ [Full Speed Ahead] competition, and got their playground remodelled with the help of funds, architects as well as the pupils themselves. “We won two million Danish crowns, and had a project outlined that would get children and young people outside to get some exercise. It must be possible to either take part in the activities or to be on the sidelines, so you don’t feel excluded, but can watch and participate if you feel like it. We have a skatepark, an amphitheatre, a “woodland circuit”, treehouses and a multipurpose pitch. I hope it has an impact on improving their wellbeing. There are far more children outside now than before, when there was nothing more than a broken football goal there. Sometimes there are 300 kids outside at once, and lots going on,” confirms the deputy head.
The oldest girls are the hardest to get moving
Although boys have the reputation for spending most time in front of a screen, it’s easier to get them outside at break time than their female classmates.
“It’s especially hard to get the older girls involved in outdoor activities. We decided to create a café environment at the edge of the basketball and multipurpose pitch. Now, a number of children sit outside to eat in the breaks when the weather is good. But we were a bit surprised that it gets used as a group room. It’s busy all day, with kids sitting there working in groups,” says Hanne Larsen.
The researcher has had the same experience:
“There are those who just need a football, and away they go,” says Henriette Bondo Andersen, who continues: “It’s harder in the upper years, when they decide so many things for themselves. And that is actually because school headteachers think that the older kids should have some privileges. But at schools where they have introduced mobile-free periods and rules regarding outside time, the pupils actually say that it’s absolutely fine, because they spend more time together, play more and communicate in a different way when they aren’t allowed to use their mobiles. It’s somewhat surprising. But they like being out of doors, and they are glad to have a bit of fresh air – as long as there is an alternative when it rains,” she laughs.
Researchers from the University of Southern Denmark have measured activity levels both before and after implementation of the project, using GPS and step counters. In addition, they interviewed a large number of children at the school.
“The kids spend more time outside now, and they are also slightly more active. But at least they now go outside, and get that little bit of extra activity. It’s good. We can see that the girls in particular sit outside a lot on the VEGA seating to talk. The places where they are most active are by the dance screen, the playground games and the climbing net. The boys, on the other hand, are more active on the Tarzan track, the mini pitches and the sunken multipurpose pitch,” says Henriette Bondo Andersen.
Out-sider gets the girls outside
The popular table and bench sets, called VEGA Picnic, were designed by VEGA Landskab for Out-sider. These were produced specifically for the “Drøn På” [Full Speed Ahead] project at Skørping School. It was therefore a requirement that they should be robust and maintenance-free in order to be able to cope with year-round use, but at the same time have a sort of café feel to them, so the older girls would want to sit there. It was essential for the school to find the right partners to produce the most attractive playground to please and benefit a broad age group for many years to come:
“We had already heard of VEGA Landskap, and this fell right in with our work and visions. They had a slightly unusual way of looking at play environments and architecture. They were thorough in their analysis and did their homework properly, and the materials were chosen with our location in mind. They respected the fact that we are right by a wood, so the playground should not be all steel and bright colours.”
Henriette Bondo Andersen has a lot of advice to offer schools struggling to get their pupils out of doors at break time.
1) Make it a rule that the entire school day should be mobile-free – kids actually don’t mind that.
2) Involve the teachers, who should get activities going at the start of the break period – the least active kids in particular need support. Children say that they prefer shared play, and that they typically play whatever the teachers have shown them.
3) Equip the area so that it is easy to use, with lots of different functional facilities. The children should almost “fall over the facilities” when they go outside, so it’s really easy to use them for the intended purpose.
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