Let Them Play

By Sarah Mannion

The restorative and therapeutic effects of spending time in greenspace for mental health and wellbeing purposes has become more widely understood and valued in recent years. Ardvreck School, set in 40 acres, surrounded by stunning views of high mountains, fields and ancient woodland, is incomparable in its location. It has greenspace by the bucketload and every single pupil uses it on a daily basis.

Let the children play? We certainly do!

Unstructured play is vital for children’s mental health and wellbeing. There are current concerns about low activity levels leading to increases in childhood obesity. Younger teenagers can often withdraw from participating in ‘childish’ fun and games. Increased screen time can mean decreased outdoor time. Here, we encourage all ages to climb trees, make dens, play with sticks and use their imaginative and creative play ideas for an extended period, several times a day. The school bell rings after our long morning break, and over a hundred wellie-booted children emerge from the trees, streams and woodland areas, refreshed, calm, and ready to go back to work in their classrooms. From the nursery right up to the oldest 13 year olds – they are often wearing plenty of mud, with leaves in their hair, grins on their faces, sometimes blasted by wind, sun and rain, but oh: so happy! 

Our school tradition of spending time outdoors is what makes Ardvreck special. There is a whole-school approach to planning and delivering an outstanding programme of balanced learning activity (physical, academic, creative and outdoor)  in order to provide developmental experiences, build resilience and to enhance pupil confidence, progressions, self-esteem and wellbeing. 

In addition to daily, unstructured play times in the extensive grounds, weekly Forest School sessions and daily games sessions outdoors, we have recently introduced specialist Outdoor Learning sessions, too. Children may learn new mountain biking skills, knot tying, or how to put up emergency shelters. There is fun to be had, there is problem solving, team work, communication, cooperation, environmental awareness, cognitive development and healthy physical activity all at play here – and the children positively thrive on it. 

Post-pandemic, we have extended our outdoor learning programme in order to reclaim missed opportunities, to cement friendships and to increase bonds within our school community. Time outdoors has always played a major part in our ethos at Ardvreck School, but post-Covid, we need to recover some extra time to make memories together, to explore a sense of agency, self-control, self-direction, enjoyment, collaboration, and of course, simple alfresco fun. 

Time spent in greenspace is known to be a facilitator of mental health and wellbeing, reducing stress and lowering heart rates. At Ardvreck we take the wellbeing of our pupils as seriously as we take academic and sporting achievements. Time spent in a greenspace enhances concentration and learning, improving attention span and the ability to retain information. Our pupils are resilient, they work hard, play hard and achieve excellent results in their examinations for senior school entrance to the very best of schools across the UK.