What impact has COVID-19 had on our children?

24 March 2021

The press has been full of stories about the impact on children of playground closures outside of school, as well as the role schools play in delivering learning and supporting wellbeing, but what about the impact the removal of outdoor learning and play time has had on children?


In January 2021 Sport England published its latest Active Lives Children and Young People Survey. It showed that, across the UK, the number of children and young people who were physically active fell during the 2019/20 academic year in England, as first storms and then the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic restricted the type of activities available. According to the survey only 44.9% of children and young people (3.2 million) met the Chief Medical Officer guidelines of taking part in sport and physical activity for an average of 60 minutes or more a day.


A recent report from the USA looked at the long-term impact of the loss of access to play and active, outdoor learning. It said:


US COVID-19 restrictions such as the closure of schools and parks, and the cancellation of youth sports and activity classes around the United States may prevent children from achieving recommended levels of physical activity… Short-term changes in Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour in reaction to COVID-19 may become permanently entrenched, leading to increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease in children.
A similar one from Canada noted:
...evidence of immediate collateral consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak, demonstrating an adverse impact on the movement and play behaviours of Canadian children and youth.
As far back as June 2020 the Children’s Commissioner said, about the pandemic and its effect on children:


“The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recognises that schools provide much more than formal learning. Article 29 of the UNCRC mandates that “Education should help develop every child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to the full”. This supplements Article 31 which recognises that “Every child has the right to relax, play and take part in cultural and artistic activities”. These are not things which come from an online tutorial but are nurtured in the classroom and developed in the playground.”


A National England report commissioned by the Government showed that 81% of children claimed to have spent less time outdoors in natural spaces with friends since the national lockdown in March 2020.


A number of studies have been published in journals that demonstrate the role a playground development can have in engaging children, combating inactivity and obesity and enriching the learning experience.


At Playforce our own impact evidence, conducted over two years, surveyed schools that had in some way developed or grown their outdoor space to include equipment linked to learning and health objectives. In more than 51% of cases tackling physical inactivity was the main objective for this development. 85% wanted to use the new installations for play and 71% for outdoor learning. 43% of respondents reported significantly better behaviour as a result of the installation, 36% noted an improvement in positive attitudes to learning, 48% said improving facilities had increased physical activity levels, 54% noted an improvement in happiness and 42% an improvement in general well being. It therefore stands to reason that the removal of access to this equipment will have an impact on children and young people.


In short, you don’t have to look far to find a number of reports, like our impact analysis, that demonstrate the direct connection between outdoor activity and play and academic performance improvement, as well as physical health and mental wellbeing. 


But what impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on this at a practical level?


To find out more we spoke to three schools and asked them to share their experiences of lockdown and, more importantly, the return to school process.
To download the full report and hear what teachers had to say, click here

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