Recommendations for Future School Playground Strategy Research
There are still a number of considerations to effectively conduct school playground interventions to promote active, healthy school students. This chapter concludes the book with an overview of the key influences and strategies for both school playground implementation and research evaluation.
KeywordsPlaygrounds Strategies Recommendations Future Initiatives
Recommendations for Future School Playground Strategy Research
In summary, from this series of chapters, it is possible to suggest that researchers are better informed about investigating school playground influences on students’ physical activity and related health outcomes. It is clear that due to the requirements of Australian students to meet national physical activity guidelines of 1 h of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day to prevent the onset of chronic illness, there will be a constant need to research the school playground setting. Students frequent the school playground for prolonged periods and daily, and playground is a safe and supervised setting. Students can visit the school playground setting before, during and after school with the amount of physical activity time often surpassing that of curricular provision of physical education. The playground is therefore a critical context to research strategies and influences on students meeting national physical activity guidelines via a range of playground strategies.
In addition to physical activity outcomes, complex informal learning processes are beginning to be understood within school playgrounds that are demonstrating that learning doesn’t always have to be facilitated by teachers within enclosed, regulated classrooms. Many studies emerging that report on cognitive, social and physical development (not just activity levels) continue to grow. Yet within teacher training programmes, there continues to be an overwhelming focus on teacher-directed learning. Exploring how informal learning within school playground contexts unfolds is an area worthy of investigation to reduce the burdens on busy teaching staff. It has been recognised that high complexity equipment to challenge students is a key to develop students’ enjoyment and reduce boredom. Exploring which strategies within school playgrounds can reduce boredom over a sustained period is another key area of investigation. The use of mobile equipment that can be manipulated, be used and can evolve over time appears to show the most promising potential to meet engaging playground objectives of thinking, doing, being and feeling. There is ample scope within school playgrounds to trial more conventional facilities beyond sporting facilities and fixed playground structures that are common within Australian schools. The lack of uniformity without a set or minimum equipment provision requirements is an area that could be explore further.
The contextual link between primary and secondary school playgrounds appears to be disconnected in many cases. Within secondary school playgrounds, there is a large proportion of sittingfacilities with picnic tables and benches, despite secondary school students desiring a host of facilities and programmes to encourage their school playground physical activity participation. The presence of graffiti and litter within secondary school playgrounds also suggests that the spaces are less of a priority for maintenance and engagement. The secondary school playground setting requires much more investigation into how it can connect further with those students graduating from primary schools with backgrounds of strong playground engagement and physical activity features. A possible research strategy to consider is the provision of more adventure playgroundactivities to increase challenges or modern sporting facilities to test students’ movement skill abilities established within primary school. The reduced enjoyment of older primary school of playground activities suggests that more should be done to prevent this decline and reinvigorate school playgrounds that older primary school students have often been exposed to for a number of years. Similarly, initiatives to engage students later in the school year should be looked at to reinvigorate school playgrounds that have often had the same facilities to be used for a number of months.
Interestingly, girls have higher enjoyment for creative, imaginative activities than boys which could be an area worth exploring for researchers to close the distinct gap in school playground physical activity participation between genders across numerous studies (boys consistently have higher physical activity levels). The level of socialinteraction, acceptance and support is regularly showing up across playground research studies as a major influencer on students’ physical activities. More research into strategies that can encourage more social interaction, acceptance, support and socio-economic status are required to promote students’ physical activity within school playgrounds. Many students desire talking to others and build social connections within school playgrounds, and ways to encourage talking whilst getting students active are a key consideration. Tapping into playground supervision strategies could be one such method. In contrast, strategies to ensure students are protected from peers that could be territorial (older year levels) also need to be considered. There is still a major gap in school playground research for the areas of religion, ethnicity and disability that requires further exploration.
Despite students’ high levels of enjoyment for school playground activities, there still remains a reduced enjoyment for playing within weather conditions that are away from the norm (e.g. cold, hot and raining). Looking at measures such as modified school uniforms for adverse weather to introduce within school playgrounds to counteract such extremes could go a long way to developing students’ physical activity participation. Further research is required into the influence of playground strategies on physical activity intensities of students as national physical activity guidelines are intensity-specific. Moreover, the least explored type of influence within school playgrounds continues to be policy influences, despite many students revealing policy-type influences that could develop physical activity participation within school playgrounds. Policies such as animal programmes (dog walking), sporting excursions, more suitable uniforms for physical activity within school playgrounds and excursions to sporting organisations are examples of areas that require enhanced investigation.
It is important for researchers to continue to consult students in relation to proposed initiatives and design as the dimensions and influences within every school playground differ, even from day to day. Tools such as self-report questionnaires can be distributed to wider school populations, and the measurement of enjoyment is important as enjoyment has a large bearing on physical activity participation. The link between students’ enjoyment of higher intensity physical activities and quality of life is one such relationship that has been determined from self-report measurement and requires further investigation. The Social-Ecological Model framework continues to be useful within school playground investigations as a framework is important to capture a broad picture of the many different types of influences on students’ physical activity and health behaviours.
There have been a number of playground strategies implemented that have been both structured and unstructured. A number of the more structured playground strategies with a set location, purpose and time have all had positive results on students’ physical activity participation and suggest that the provision of ‘new’ strategies within school playgrounds is important. A host of more holistic benefits to students’ health and learning has been determined from more unstructured playground strategies. The benefits of the more student-directed, spontaneous nature of unstructured initiatives on cognitive, social and learning outcomes should continue to be explored. From the unstructured playground strategies that have been implemented or mentored to teaching staff, these have demonstrated that providing variety, choice and equipment that is cost-effective are important considerations for playground strategies in the future. Yet trialling innovative and exciting school playground strategies on students’ physical activity and health outcomes isn’t the only consideration. School playground strategies should be evaluated via a host of measures over a prolonged timespan to capture a comprehensive picture of the influences of the strategy. Furthermore, evaluation frameworks such as the RE-AIM process evaluation can ensure that if a school playground strategy is highly successful for students’ physical activity, health and learning, then schools have a framework to replicate such outcomes on a wider scale. Many adults would consider playground physical activities to be an essential element of a good childhood. Understanding and implementation of effective school playground strategies can lead to improvements in students’ health and wellbeing. Playground activities can often be replicated and transferred to other contexts such as the community and home settings for further development and engagement.
Reflecting on the School Playground Setting
Throughout this book, insights into projects and strategies within the school playground context to develop students’ physical activity and health outcomes have been outlined, yet it should be noted that the goal of the book isn’t to take any focus away from school classroomlearning. The major purpose of the book is to broaden understanding of the often forgotten about or less-prioritised context for students’ physical activity and health. In addition to the high levels of learning that are facilitated within school classes, the primary focus is to reveal key influential components on and within school playground settings that are often less investigated compared to projects of a more pedagogical or classroom-based nature. An enhanced understanding of the school playground setting can unlock further ideas and strategies to benefit our school students to complement other settings such as the home and structured class time. It has often been difficult for researchers, policymakers and educational practitioners to focus on the many influences that impact on students within school playgrounds. This book is designed for researchers to ‘consider’ exploring new ideas to broaden the scope of research and insight into school playgrounds.
Contemporary School Playground Strategiesfor Healthy Students has been written for audiences of all levels who are curious about school playgrounds and the influences this environmental setting can have on school students. This includes policymakers, educators, researchers and playground designers.
What has underpinned all chapters in the book has been a motivation to provide understanding of school playgrounds in its broadest sense by exploring broad angles, influences and factors that impact and shape students. As a passionate teacher and physical educator, the desire was to consider learning and health-promoting avenues ‘outside the educational box’ and to further develop knowledge for the benefit of the professions (research, academic and practice focused). The book has the ability to inform future research and practice in diverse fields from general early childhood and primary and secondary education to sport, physical and health education, play organisations and outdoor and environmental education.
Overall, it should be considered that ‘happy, healthy school students can lead to happy, healthy communities’.