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.
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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. 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. 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.’