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OUTDOOR ‘LEARNING THROUGH PLAY’ AS A POST-LOCKDOWN CLASSROOM TOOL

By May 4, 2021 July 3rd, 2021 No Comments

Whilst playing at school is typically reserved to the playground at break times and lunch times, the concept of ‘learning through play’ has permeated the education sector for some time now. Learning through play is the idea that children play games, or engage in physical activity in their lessons. This is not limited to physical education (P.E.) but is applicable for any lesson, including the core subjects like Maths, English and Science.

Learning through play, sometimes referred to as ‘active learning’, ‘learning in motion’ or ‘play-based learning’, has clear advantages to childhood development, particularly in primary schools. Evidence suggests that playing increases motor and social skills, motivates children to learn more, improves confidence and triggers stronger muscle memory (to name a few). Yet, with the protracted coronavirus pandemic, physical movement during lessons has been relegated to online (and subsequently sedentary) learning via a screen. Learning through play has drastically decreased or become completely obsolete.

An evidence-based approach

A recent study in the US revealed that children’s inactivity had increased during the first few months of the pandemic due to schools and local parks being closed. In the long-term this has the potential for increased health risks such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.[1] Moreover, a comparative study conducted in Norway about home-schooling during the pandemic revealed that teachers are more likely to prioritize tasking students with assignments that require sedentary work, as opposed to physical activity.[2] Social media groups have also sprung up over the last year with parents suggesting and recommending physical activities for their children to do remotely.

Yet, the physical activity of children has long been a cause for concern before the onslaught of the pandemic. For example, in 2005 the Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance came together to form a network of researchers and practitioners working to advance physical activity in children. They produce report cards per country using a global matrix and set of assessments based on a variety of factors. For ‘Overall Physical Activity’ The Netherlands scored a grade C in 2018. The report concluded that ‘most Dutch children do not meet the national guidelines for healthy physical activity.’[3]

Netherlands scorecard from Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance Source: Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance.

Now with the easing of global restrictions, school re-openings are number one on the agenda, and rightly so. In England, children returned to school as early as the first week of March – which was still in the middle of their third national lockdown. Other parts of the UK reopened schools three weeks ago after the Easter holidays, on a similar timeline to The Netherlands. Child mobility should therefore be a priority and teachers are in a position to support this. This is where learning through play can literally play an important role in the back to school initiatives and throughout the school year. It should be seen not only as another way of increasing child development, but also as an opportunity to let children outside again and explore their environment.

The Gamer: a case study in The Netherlands

Energy Floors is a firm believer in play-based learning through the creation of one of our products, The Gamer. The Gamer is a solar-powered interactive energy floor programmed with 10 educational games to be installed in school playgrounds.

Last week, I sat down with Mr. Erwin Zeestraten, a sports teacher at De Driemaster elementary school in Hoek van Holland, The Netherlands. Mr. Zeestraten has been teaching sports to children for 13 years. The Gamer was installed at De Driemaster in April 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic. Zeestraten tells us that the children are enthusiastic about it “every break they have, before school, after school they are playing”.

Zeestraten started using The Gamer for his after school sports club where, for a period of time, they focused solely on playing outdoor games – typical games like hide and seek, for example. They then introduced The Gamer; “they really enjoy it, especially the games they play in groups.” Students that attended his after school club are then able to teach their peers how to use the games. Some particular favourites include Snake (Game 5), Dino Jump (Game 9) and Tic Tac Toe (Game 6), these are especially popular among ages 4, 5 and up to 10 years old.

In addition, Zeestraten tells us that outside of his lessons The Gamer has potential. For example, the school hosted a ‘day of learning outside’ and some teachers used The Gamer to make it more fun.

As of April 2021, The Gamer has been installed in 50 primary schools across The Netherlands (view them on the map here), two in Germany and two in Malta. Games on the floor range from teaching spelling to simple arithmetic, and can also be adapted to increase levels of difficulty per age group. There are also more light-hearted competitive games amongst friends, but the overall outcome is simple: to get children moving.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need to take advantage of moving while we can. It has reinforced the message that active learning is a necessity. And it is therefore imperative that educators and policy makers alike should position themselves to increase learning through play systematically for when normality resumes.

The next global Outdoor Classroom Day is May 20th 2021. In The Netherlands Buiten Speeldag is June 9th 2021. Get in touch with us about installing The Gamer for your next sports day or outdoor school initiative.


[1] https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-020-09429-3#Abs1

[2] https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fspor.2020.589227/full#h10

[3] https://www.activehealthykids.org/netherlands/