NC Elementary School Unveils New Outdoor-Learning and Play Space

RALEIGH, N.C. – School administrators at one Wake County elementary school have teamed up with the American Heart Association, the Look for the Good Project and the Online Physical Education Network to transform a little-used blacktop into a brightly colored outdoor learning and play space designed to boost kids’ physical activity.

Justine Andrews, communications director at the Heart Association, said the Combs Elementary School project is not your typical playground.

“So it has all sorts of activities, games, different places for kids to interact so that they have things to do, reasons to stay active,” Andrews said. “It’s very different from the typical playground, but we think it’s interactive in a new and creative way.”

Research has shown that regular physical activity helps children build strong bones and muscles, reduces anxiety and depression, and lessens the risk for developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

Brian Glendenning is senior administrator of health and physical education for the Wake County Public School System. He said in today’s digital world, kids need extra motivation to develop outdoor exercise habits.

“The competition is to give kids motivation to do something away from those screens, and to capture the imagination of kids and allow them a space that gives them something that’s interesting to them – also something that’s linked to learning,” Glendenning said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, less than one-quarter of children participate in 60 minutes of physical activity each day.

Glendenning also pointed out that playing outdoors is important for developing social skills and relationships, and noted the outdoor play space is specifically aimed at enhancing those.

“And the opportunity to have positive interactions with your peers – that’s less of an opportunity than I think it was 20 or 30 years ago,” he said. “They have positive impacts on relationships, which have positive impacts on mental health and kids feeling like they belong somewhere.”

In a study published earlier in 2019, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic found children’s physical activity begins to decrease around age 8 – much earlier than previously thought.

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