Australian students who could improve their health by playing outside at school are avoiding using school playgrounds because they’re bored. Southern Cross University physical education and health expert Dr Brendon Hyndman says children and teenagers are staying away from or not using unattractive, unappealing outdoor spaces such as empty grassed areas, courts and fixed facilities that may not have changed or been updated with new activity options for months or even years.
“Evidence shows that if they’re not challenged or exposed to new and enticing facilities and equipment, students move less,” Dr Hyndman said. “In my research, students have voiced that boredom can prompt them to misbehave, push boundaries and even become reckless to the point of injuring themselves or others.
“Secondary students have also voiced a desire for more challenging physical experiences. If they’re not given those attractive options, there can be a tendency to hang around the canteen and lounge areas.”
In his new book Contemporary School Playground Strategies for Healthy Students, Dr Hyndman suggests that strategies as simple as making available weather-appropriate uniforms and inexpensive mobile equipment such as hay bales and blocks, students could become motivated to venture into their school playgrounds, and reap the health benefits as a result.
But Dr Hyndman said, students should be consulted about the features to be included in their playgrounds. He said Australian children can experience more than 4000 recess and lunch periods during their primary schooling, presenting a large period that could be used to influence behaviour, recreational preferences and habits into secondary schooling and beyond.
“Teachers are conscious of changing educational content and their classrooms to prevent boredom, yet there isn’t the same consideration of how best to use schools’ outdoor spaces for learning – both for physical education and the broader recreational options,” Dr Hyndman said. “This is especially important for those students who prefer not to participate in competitive sports.
“Girls, in particular, enjoy creative, imaginative and social play opportunities that can’t be fulfilled in tired, old-fashioned facilities. Innovative suggestions such as dog walking or dance programs give them opportunities to exercise and socialise."
In his book, Dr Hyndman suggests a range of strategies that could be considered by the more than 9,000 Australian schools that have playground facilities, including:
Dr Brendon Hyndman (ed.), Contemporary School Playground Strategies for Healthy Students, Springer Nature Singapore, 2017 (DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-4738-1_16)
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