Across the world, physical activity among children is decreasing. Indian cities in particular do not promote active lifestyles because of the high population density, infrastructure limitations, pollution and the climate.
Physical activity is an important contributor to the health of a community. In fact, physical inactivity is identified by the WHO as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality with major implications for the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and the general health of the population. Often one fails to realise the benefits of active living, especially when increasing work demands make it difficult to take time out for exercise. By the time one is forced to set that time aside the lifestyle related ailments have already surfaced. At such a point a lot of effort is required to change one’s lifestyle and make physical activity part of our regimen. Habits are acquired over time, perhaps best inculcated early in life. Urban environments in India are generally ill suited to facilitate such healthy lifestyles. For someone to be naturally inclined towards active living, such habits need to be acquired early on in life.
Across the world, physical activity among children is decreasing. Indian cities in particular do not promote active lifestyles because of the high population density, infrastructure limitations, pollution and the climate. WHO recommends a minimum of one hour a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity for children and young people. This is important to stay physically fit and to avoid lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular ones. By enabling children to enjoy active lifestyles, through play, we promote healthy living among them. Opportunities and right to play will ensure they grow up to be healthy adults.
Children enjoy being active, all they require are well-equipped play areas accessible at the right place. Anyone who has seen a toddler explore a jungle gym will understand how free play activity enhances skill development among children. They push their limits all the while observing others do the same. All this without competition or instruction. And children learn to play with each other, building social skills.
Children are active without structured physical training sessions. They are able to explore their environment, their creativity and their social skills. Research has shown that play can lead to physical, social, emotional and cognitive benefits for children
The UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have the right to play. Schools play an integral role in creating the atmosphere that promotes active play among children. To meet their commitment towards child developmental milestones, schools must make a concerted effort to provide such an environment.
Nature of play areas recommended:
We recommend having defined play areas in locations easily accessible by the target children’s group. They should be easily able to access it in recess times, or other free times. The school timetable should be designed to allow children to spend time in these areas. Off course, other considerations that need to be factored in are the climatic conditions, too much sun in the summer? Sufficient shaded areas, for it to be a viable playing area.
For each developmental stage, activities that contribute to the development of physical, emotional, social, cognitive and creative skills in children vary. While formal sports are a good way to inculcate such learning, it is often through unstructured play that some early developmental skills are honed by children. Free play areas where children expend energy and develop motor skills, build bone & muscle strength and cardio are some examples of play contributing to development in early education. Defined areas must be age appropriate with a varied range of activities to meet the requirements of each age group.
Children learn to play together, interact with their peers, develop teamwork, competitiveness empathy and more through play activities. The joy of free play is a fundamental experience to a child. Schools must respect this by creating appropriate spaces.
For children to desire to play, the play area needs to be designed to draw out their interests. If the activities in the play area are easy, the children will soon master them and get bored with them. Activities that are too difficult will lead them to give up and look for something else. For each age group, there need to be multi-play areas that require a variety of challenges calibrated to be progressively more difficult.
“Well designed playgrounds can provide stimulus to social, emotional, cognitive and creative growth. This besides the physical growth, of course”,says Vinay Bhatt, Business Development Director of Kompan, the world’s largest play equipment manufacturers.
The design of the space needs a strong creative element, something that inspires children to devise games of their own, to allow them to play individually and together, to create that urge to spend more time.
Themed play areas that are also physically challenging can be designed to require active thought and collaboration. Perhaps an area that blends in with its surroundings, is bright and colourful and builds a sense of community.
Quality & Safety
At no point must one compromise on the quality of the play area. This means creating a robust product that is designed to withstand the climate and regular use. While it must be durable, it must also have a regular service and maintenance schedule.
There is increasing awareness in creating child-friendly school environments, the same needs to be applied in designing the play areas. For example, in a basic fun station, in addition to the movable parts being well anchored, and no sharp edges, care must be taken that all materials are non-toxic.
We are trying to create a healthy system for our children so sustainability and eco-friendliness of the process and product should also be in our consideration set. After all, these efforts will lead to a better world for our children.