Energizing Minds and Bodies: The Introduction of the Creative Play Initiative at Two Primary Schools in Barbados

Children playing

Bridgetown, Barbados, 16 January 2024 (PAHO) – A Global School Health Survey conducted in Barbados in 2011 revealed that over 30% of school children aged 9-11 and 13-15 years old are either overweight or obese. Now, in an age where childhood obesity and sedentary lifestyles pose significant challenges to the well-being of our youth, the need for innovative approaches to encourage physical activity is more pressing than ever.

One promising solution emerges in the form of the Creative Play initiative implemented in primary schools, seamlessly blending creativity, and movement to revolutionize the learning experience.

Launched in November 2023, this initiative was conceptualized by the Senior Health Promotion Officer of the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Ms. Donna Barker.

“Being aware of the support that is being given to the improvement of childhood nutrition in Barbados, through various strategies, including creative ways to make healthy food appealing, I thought about making physical activity appealing. Not all of our children are interested in competitive sports, but most children enjoy playing and having fun. While on social media I came across several videos showing colourful and stimulating obstacle courses drawn onto yards or play areas for children. Many of these were in Asian countries. I thought this could be introduced to Barbadian primary schools as a creative way for children to stay active since that is where they spend most of the day.”

The PAHO/WHO Representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Countries, Dr Amalia Del Riego indicated that kids are not as physically active as in the past as the use of devices has replaced outside playing. “We must think outside the box and be creative to get kids to be more active. This initiative did that by infusing excitement into physical activity.”

Outcomes and Benefits of the Creative Play Initiative

  • Increased Physical Activity: each area instructs children to run, skip, hop or crawl and this increases the level of movement outside usual walking throughout the school compound. Increased physical activity contributes to cardiovascular fitness, strength, flexibility, and coordination.
  • Enhanced Creativity: the play areas are versatile and encourage the students to demonstrate imaginative thinking and sharpen their problem-solving skills.
  • Improved Academic Performance: in other countries, assessments suggest a positive correlation between increased physical activity and improved academic performance.
  • Positive Behavioural Changes: students who engage in creative play exhibit improved focus, concentration, communication, and cooperation in and out of the classroom.
  • Community Engagement: this initiative fosters a sense of community among students and teachers, creating a supportive network for overall child development.

Design and Implementation

The Creative Play areas feature life-sized versions of typical children’s games such as Snakes and Ladders and incorporate some aspects of Barbadian culture. With the permission and guidance of the Ministry of Education, Technological and Vocational Training, two schools were chosen for the initial implementation of the Creative Play Initiative: St. Albans Primary School and Charles F. Broome Memorial Primary School. The first school to receive the completed play areas was St. Albans Primary School.

Children playing
Children games
Children and adults playing
Children's game

Reception by St. Albans Students

According to several of the teachers, the students were ecstatic to receive these Creative Play areas at their school. Children of all ages gathered around and began to play with each other. When the team from the Ministry of Health and Wellness and PAHO arrived, the students also eagerly invited them to join in on their fun. Many of the students expressed sincere gratitude for giving them the opportunity to have fun and run around in these Creative Play areas.

Principal Wendine Prince had this to say about the project. “The newly installed play spaces recently installed at The St. Alban’s Primary School are welcomed by both staff and students. Not only do they provide a space where students can engage in wholesome physical activity, but they are a pleasing addition to the aesthetics of the school.

The nexus between sports and academic performance is significant. Through play, concepts taught in subject areas such as Mathematics, Social Studies and Health can be reinforced through these play activities.

I take this opportunity to thank the persons of the PAHO and The Ministry of Health who were instrumental in allowing St. Alban’s Primary School to be part of the pilot phase.”

Next Steps

The Creative Play Initiative was introduced at two primary schools. It is the hope that this initiative will facilitate increased physical activity among the school population, students, and teachers alike.

PAHO/WHO believes this has promising outcomes and is pleased to be committed to this initiative, which serves as a model for fostering healthy, active, and creative learning environments in primary schools. PAHO/WHO will continue to collaborate with the Ministry of Health and Wellness and the Ministry of Education, Technological and Vocational Training to expand the initiative to other schools in the coming academic year. It is envisaged that other organizations will come on board to further expand the initiative to all schools and the wider communities across Barbados.