Exercise and academic performance - Education Matters Magazine
Beyond the Classroom

Exercise and academic performance

Being physically active is important for a child’s physical, mental and social development. Playground designers and consultants, Playrope, discuss the links between exercise and academic performance.

There have been various studies that have linked children being physically active with their intelligence quotient, concentration capacity and linguistic and mathematical skills. Aside from this, there are also the obvious benefits of physical activity like assisting to reduce the likelihood of obesity and reducing the instance of postural deformities.

While students spend much of their school day sedentary, break times offer the perfect opportunity to get the body moving. In a primary school setting, choosing the right play equipment can encourage students to undertake basic forms of exercise such as balancing, climbing, jumping, bouncing, rocking and swinging. This helps to strike an important balance with cognitive learning in the classroom and is also conducive to a child’s development. Suitable play equipment can also assist students with learning to assess risk and play equipment that encourages role play can assist with the development of a child’s social and communication skills.

To fully benefit the students using the playground, play equipment should encourage a versatile range of exercise, offer a high degree of challenge, accommodate as many children as possible and provide the necessary degree of safety.

A versatile range of exercise

The act of balancing requires coordination and concentration. To solve an equilibrium task, skills like perception, planning, risk assessment, decision making and reacting alternately in quick succession are necessary. These skills can be promoted an attractive balancing and handrail offer in the school playground. Examples of play equipment that rely on the act of balancing include slacklines, nets, hand ladders and jungle or rubber bridges. Equipment that promotes the swinging of the arms has similar effects on development. This strengthens arm and shoulder muscles, and encourages balance and coordination.

By including play equipment that encourages the act of climbing, it helps to train a child’s sense of balance and body awareness. On a neurological level, climbing in a three-dimensional space stimulates inter-connecting patterns in the brain, namely those that stimulate the imagination, which in turn are needed in three-dimensional computing.

Through jumping and bouncing, a certain degree of muscle power is required. Play equipment that encourages these types of movements also requires children to land safely, which promotes coordination and balance. When jumping down from a piece of play equipment, the child assesses the risk. By providing flexible or bouncy play equipment, children are given a particularly exciting challenge in this regard.

While designing a play space that encourages a wide range of movements is important for a child’s physical and mental development; there are a number of factors to consider too. From the school’s perspective, the playground should also offer ease of supervision, simple maintenance, a long service life and the ability to add to or extend the existing play space in the future.

Creating challenge

An ideal play space provides a stimulating environment that challenges its users. Incorporating an appropriate level of challenge can benefit children as they learn to self-assess risk. This also adds an element of excitement as children learn how to navigate the equipment. By providing play equipment that is interesting and exciting, children are more likely to use the space during their break times, which encourages physical activity and exercise.

Space for all

During the school day, a large group – if not all – students have their breaks at the same time. Therefore play spaces should accommodate a high number of children at any given time, ensuring they have enough room to exercise and work their developing muscles. By ensuring play equipment can be used by a high density of students in unison, it ensures more students have the opportunity to exercise during their break times.

Creating a safe environment

While a successful play space incorporates a calculable risk, it is vital that all play equipment offers the necessary level of safety. Each piece of equipment should be designed so that the chance of serious injury is avoided. A degree of risk assists children to understand danger and consequence.


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