School Playground Strategies to Promote Unstructured Activities



Unstructured playground activities are defined as the activities students participate in that are spontaneous and without a set regime or purpose that can include digging, raking, lifting/carrying, exploring, planting, chasing, pushing objects into positions, construction, imaginative and creative play. The importance of students’ unstructured active playground activities is reflected in the definition of school recess “as a regularly scheduled time for children to engage in ‘unstructured’ play” (Wechsler et al. Prev Med 31(2):123, 2000). School playground opportunities that encourage unstructured, open-ended free play are an important opportunity to promote students’ activity levels of all ages and genders. This chapter will outline some of the recent, major school playground strategies to encourage unstructured activities.


Playgrounds Strategies Physical activity Unstructured play 


  1. Bundy, A. C., Luckett, T., Naughton, G. A., Tranter, P. J., Wyver, S. R., Ragen, J., et al. (2008). Playful interaction: Occupational therapy for all children on the school playground. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 62(5), 522–527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bundy, A., Luckett, T., Tranter, P., Naughton, G., Wyver, S., Ragen, J., & Spies, G. (2009). The risk is that there is ‘no risk’: A simple, innovative intervention to increase children’s activity levels. International Journal of Early Years Education, 17(1), 33–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Cardon, G., Van Cauwenberghe, E., Labarque, V., Haerens, L., & De Bourdeaudhuij, I. (2008). The contribution of preschool playground factors in explaining children’s physical activity during recess. The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 5, 11. doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-5-11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Dyment, J. E., & Bell, A. C. (2007). Active by design: Promoting physical activity through school ground greening. Children’s Geographies, 5(4), 463–477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dyment, J. E., & Bell, A. C. (2008). Grounds for movement: Green school grounds as sites for promoting physical activity. Health Education Research, 23(6), 952–962.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dyment, J. E., Bell, A. C., & Lucas, A. J. (2009). The relationship between school ground design and intensity of physical activity. Children’s Geographies, 7(3), 261–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Engelen, L., Bundy, A. C., Naughton, G., Simpson, J. M., Bauman, A., Ragen, J., et al. (2013). Increasing physical activity in young primary school children—it’s child’s play: A cluster randomised controlled trial. Preventive Medicine, 56(5), 319–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Factor, J. (2004). Tree stumps, manhole covers and rubbish tins: The invisible play-lines of a primary school playground. Childhood, 11(2), 142–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gill, T. (2014). The play return: A review of the wider impact of play initiatives. Paper presented at the Children’s Play Policy Forum.Google Scholar
  10. Groves, L., & McNish, H. (2011). Natural play: Making a difference to children’s learning and wellbeing. Edinburgh: Forestry Commission.Google Scholar
  11. Hyndman, B. P., & Lester, L. (2015). The effect of an emerging school playground strategy to encourage children’s physical activity: The accelerometer intensities from movable playground and Lunchtime activities in youth (AIM-PLAY) study. Children, Youth and Environments, 25(3), 109–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hyndman, B. P., Benson, A. C., Ullah, S., & Telford, A. (2014a). Evaluating the effects of the lunchtime enjoyment activity and play (LEAP) school playground intervention on children’s quality of life, enjoyment and participation in physical activity. BMC Public Health, 14(1), 164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hyndman, B. P., Benson, A. C., & Telford, A. (2014b). A guide for educators to move beyond conventional school playgrounds: The RE-AIM evaluation of the Lunchtime Enjoyment Activity and Play (LEAP) intervention. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 39(1).
  14. James, S. S. (2012). Survey of the impact of the Scrapstore PlayPod in Primary Schools. Bristol: Children’s Scrapstore.Google Scholar
  15. Lester, S., Jones, O., & Russell, W. (2011) Supporting school improvement through play: An evaluation of South Gloucestershire Council’s Outdoor Play and Learning (OPAL) programme. London: Play England. Retrieved June 1, 2016, from
  16. McLachlan, B. (2014). Project play at Swanson School. Play and Folklore, 61(1), 4–8.Google Scholar
  17. Paddle, E., & Gilliland, J. (2016). Orange is the new green: Exploring the restorative capacity of seasonal foliage in schoolyard trees. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 13(5), 497.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Salmon, J., Owen, N., Crawford, D., Bauman, A., & Sallis, J. F. (2003). Physical activity and sedentary behavior: A population-based study of barriers, enjoyment, and preference. Health Psychology, 22(2), 178–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Sener, I. N., Copperman, R. B., Pendyala, R. M., & Bhat, C. R. (2008). An analysis of children’s leisure activity engagement: Examining the day of week, location, physical activity level, and fixity dimensions. Transportation, 35(5), 673–696.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Stellino, M. B., Sinclair, C. D., Partridge, J. A., & King, K. M. C. (2010). Differences in children's recess physical activity: Recess activity of the week intervention. Journal of School Health, 80(9), 436–444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Wechsler, H., Devereaux, R., Davis, M., & Collins, J. (2000). Using the school environment to promote physical activity and healthy eating. Preventive Medicine, 31(2), 121–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EducationSouthern Cross UniversityGold CoastAustralia

Personalised recommendations