A play area that is more than "a bit of concrete with broken toys" is essential to the emotional development of children.
That's according to psychotherapist Bethan O'Riordan, who was speaking to Newstalk Breakfast after a study from University College Cork found that primary schoolyards are often hard-surface, restricted, empty spaces with limited access to natural areas.
The study also found that poor design can contribute to bullying, exclusion and racism – and called for the provision of diverse spaces for play to address the issues.
"Play is children's language," Ms O'Riordan told the show.
"Play is about safety, play underpins emotional literacy and learning.
"To have a safe space where children play and it's not just a bit of concrete with broken toys, is absolutely essential."
Ms O'Riordan said the ideal schoolyard would have colouring tables, sand play, building blocks, tires, climbing walls, a cosy cocoon, football, basketball and scooters.
"There has to be something for everybody," she said.
"Children are more stressed out than ever before and for a lot of children going outside, seeing a load of other children running around, it's really overwhelming for them.
"We have to provide a space where everybody is included, including those that want to go off and have the football matches and the ones that just want a quieter play and those finding themselves somewhere in between."
Ms O'Riordan said some children may need help to learn how to play.
"Children are coming into the world now – they're neurodiverse, they have extra bits and bobs going on, maybe they have stuff going on at home," she said.
"When they come to school, their body and mind aren't necessarily, unfortunately, ready and able for play and some children need additional help in this area.
"We can micromanage we can overthink and a lot of children do do really well with play, but there's also different hierarchies that come out in the playground, and things that parents or adults need to help children with."
'The law of the jungle'
In terms of exclusion and bullying, Ms O'Riordan said some parts of the schoolyard are still "the law of the jungle".
"We can't cocoon children from the reality of the world – if you're not great at football, you probably won't get picked, but you do have other skills somewhere else," she said.
"I think it is important that children do go off and figure out their identity, who they are amongst their peers, and where they fit in and become okay with it – and that only happens through experience and learning."
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