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Out Door Gym in Schools

The School Sport and Activity Action Plan

Following Damian Hind’s statement earlier this month, the Government set out a high-level plan to address the very important issues of child inactivity and high obesity levels. Tom Willock, Managing Director of Fresh Air Fitness shares his thoughts on the report...

School outdoor Gym opening

22nd July 2019

The impacts of a sedentary lifestyle on physical and mental health are well documented and it is of grave concern that only 17.5% of children meet the Chief Medical Officers’ guidance that they should be active for at least 60 minutes per day. And even more concerning is that, despite 30 mins expected to take place at school, still 32.9% of children and young people currently do less than 30 minutes of activity per day.

This report features three overarching ambitions, which I have considered in turn:

1. All children and young people take part in at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day

The overriding emphasis of the report is around the 60 minutes of activity. A school’s commitment is to provide 30 minutes of activity per day. Whilst schools’ cannot solve other societal issues, the only place to make short term progress is through the use of school environment. This could be further physical activity opportunities in and around the school day, after school clubs or making school facilities available throughout holiday periods.

In our various surveys, we have found a wide range of solutions that schools’ have used to provide more than the 30 minutes target. We have found the outdoor gym can be a key tool in this, since it is available at breaktimes, lunchtimes as well as formal PE lessons. In one school, it offered an extra 110 minutes of physical activity per day by being readily available at free play times. Our outdoor gyms have also been used in support of the Daily Mile to add some variation to this activity or used as a resource for those who are waiting to start or have finished before other pupils. Schools often offer an after-school gym club, using the outdoor gym, or as a warm up or warm down for other clubs such as netball, football etc.

2. Children and young people have the opportunity to realise developmental, character-building experiences through sport, competition and active pursuits

Various sport and active pursuits can build important life skills including confidence, self- belief, dedication and resilience. These are important skills and can be learnt across a number of different activities dependent on the specific child.

Our own research has found that there are a large number of activities that schools’ deliver now go across the differing physical abilities and genders. These can range from more recognised sports to activities from yoga to ultimate frisbee or making an activity individual and skills- based rather than in a game format. We have seen some interesting ways of encouraging a pupil who is less engaged, e.g. involving them as an umpire or official, which can start them on the path to reengage further with physical activity.

The feedback on our outdoor gyms is that they are easy to use, so even those with lower confidence will try it and afterwards will continue to use the equipment. Our surveys show 95% of pupils have a positive experience of our Fresh Air Fitness outdoor gym equipment.  The outdoor gyms have been used as a tool for self-improvement as well as competition between individuals, often by measuring how many times they can complete the exercise in 30 seconds or 60 seconds.

3. All sport and physical activity provision for children and young people is designed around the concepts of physical literacy, focuses on fun and enjoyment and aims to reach the least active

If a physical activity is not fun and engaging, then the children will not do this for long! Of course, to make something engaging and fun usually requires a mix of quality teaching and access to appropriate facilities.

Physical literacy is the building of physical competency, alongside confidence, enjoyment, knowledge and understanding.

Our own experience has been making sure the equipment is fun to use and a key part of this has been to concentrate on equipment which moves. We have focused on trying to educate the pupils as well as make it fun and our latest animations found on our YouTube channel demonstrate this. As well as illustrating how to get the best use of the equipment, they outline the benefits of each piece of equipment to the specific parts of the body. With over 95% of children using the equipment, a Fresh Air Fitness outdoor is popular across all abilities and with both boys and girls.

The plan has set out some ambitious aims and it will be interesting to see further implementation detail and whether there are any extra funds to support this ambition.

Tom Willock

(Pictured above standing alongside Mayor for the grand opening of a schools outdoor gym)

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