News - ESP Play - Playground Specialists

5 Tips on How to Equip an Outdoor Classroom

Children love learning outdoors when the weather is warm. It gets them some well needed fresh air, stops them feeling cooped up and can be a real relief from the stifling heat of poorly ventilated classrooms. The problem for many schools, however, is that taking learning outdoors isn’t practical as they just don’t have the resources. Well, not anymore. Now it’s possible to resource an outdoor space so that it can be used for a wide range of subject areas. In this post, we’ll give you five tips on how to equip your outdoor classroom.

1. Make sure you have the right playground flooring

If children are going to work outdoors, it’s likely that, at some stage, they will need to write or draw. The most comfortable position for this without a chair and desk is to sit or lay on the floor. Hard playground surfaces, however, aren’t good for this. They are uncomfortable and often leave children’s uniforms covered in a layer of dust or dirt. Softer surfaces, like grass, are much more suitable.

If you have a grassy area, then this would be the ideal place to locate your outdoor classroom. If you don’t have natural grass, you should consider installing artificial grass. It’s just as comfortable and clean to sit on, with the added advantages that it doesn’t need maintaining or mowing like real grass and doesn’t get muddy. Alternatively, you can also use a rubber wetpour surface which has a cushioned or padded feel to it. Either of these surfaces would be perfect for children to sit on and lay on to write.

2. Get some outdoor work benches

If you need a few tables and chairs for children to sit at, it isn’t always practical to carry ones from the classroom out into the yard. Picnic tables are a much better solution. They can be left out in the playground and used during break times and lunchtimes, too.

Alternatively, you can purchase curriculum based picnic style tables, with interchangeable tops such as our handwriting practice tabletop and MFL practice tabletop. These allow pupils to work on specific curriculum areas whilst sat at the tables.

3. Get subject specific outdoor resources

Wouldn’t it be great if you could install wooden posts in your playground to which you could easily attach a range of interchangeable, subject specific, working panels? Especially if you could put them up when you need them and take them down when you were finished. Well, you can – and there is a multitude to choose from covering almost every curriculum area and every age from EYFS to KS4.

Interchangeable panels can be used by staff to write out learning objectives and instructions or used by pupils to write, draw, measure, calculate, note take and much more. When you’re finished, simply wipe clean, take down and put them away for safe storage.

ESP Play outdoor curriculum panels are much more than simple outdoor whiteboards. Most of them incorporate useful tools such as abacuses, coordinate grids, weather measurement instruments (for measuring rainfall and windspeed), timelines, moving clock faces, etc.

These boards are designed to be useful and hard wearing outdoor classroom resources that can save teachers time and engage children in their lessons. Currently, we provide outdoor panels for the following subject areas: art and design, design and technology, English, geography, history, maths, MFL, music, PE and science. We also provide cross-curricular panels too.

4. Put your pupils on a pedestal

Outdoor lessons are great for groupwork and one of the best ways to finish off is to get the children to show the rest of the class what they have achieved. The ideal place to do this is on a raised platform where they can be seen clearly by everyone.

You can install a raised stage area inexpensively in any playground and putting one in your outdoor classroom is an easy way to create a focal point where the teacher or groups of children can present to others.  

Perfect for performances, presentations, speeches and showcasing work, we have a range of stages at ESP Play, including square, triangular, half stage and octagonal shaped stages.

5. Protect pupils from the sun

Whilst it is great to work outdoors, sometimes there is the risk of sunburn or sunstroke if it gets too hot. Providing an area where children can get some shade from direct sunlight whilst continuing with their lesson can be a useful addition to your outdoor classroom. It can also help if there’s an unexpected spot of rain.

Outdoor shading can be provided in three different way. The simplest form is a sail cover – a weatherproof canvas attached to the top of fixed poles. Alternatively, there is a range of pergolas available, including ones with built-in seats and decked flooring. Finally, you can install wooden structures, such as our large octagonal shelter, which comes with tiered seating, sides and a trellis.

All these shading products would be helpful not just for outdoor lessons but for use at break and lunchtimes. The large octagonal shelter can even be used to host some open-air performances.

Conclusion

Many schools are now developing outdoor classrooms as a way to enrich the curriculum and engage pupils in a wider range of activities. Here at ESP Play, we have been listening to what our customers have been saying and have responded by producing many of the resources these schools have been asking for. If you are considering creating your own outdoor classroom, we hope you’ll find these resources useful to you.

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6 Types of Playground Flooring Available for Schools

When it comes to resurfacing a school playground, it looks like Tarmac and asphalt have had their day. Although you’ll still find them in many older school yards, when it’s time to resurface most schools now choose more child-friendly alternatives. In this post, we’ll take a look at the six types of alternative playground flooring that are being adopted by schools.

Why are schools moving away from Tarmac and asphalt surfacing?

For many years, Tarmac and asphalt were considered the best type of playground flooring. They were hardwearing, relatively inexpensive and provided a surface that didn’t get too slippery in the rain. However, they were not without their flaws. They were susceptible to weather wearing, offered limited opportunities for what they could be used for and their hardness often caused injuries when children fell on them.

Today, we have a much greater choice available to us when it comes to playground flooring. There are surfaces which are much safer to play on and which offer a wider range of playground activities. With the right flooring in place, a playground can be transformed into something far more useful for outdoor lessons, PE and break times.

Here are six alternative types of playground flooring you can now choose from.  

1. Artificial Grass and Sports Surfacing

Artificial grass can turn your playground from a dull grey desert into a green oasis overnight. It creates a far more pleasant and inviting outdoor space for children to enjoy and, being softer than tarmac or asphalt, it is safer for children to play on. It is ideal for warmer days too, as it is somewhere where children can sit and lay on in the sunshine – something they don’t normally do on uncomfortable and dirty surfaces like Tarmac or asphalt.

Artificial grass also makes great sports surfacing. You can install playground markings on the artificial grass to create a wide range of sports pitches and courts. This gives children the incentive to get involved in physical activities during break times and gives you extra PE facilities at the same time.

Unlike real grass, the artificial variety doesn’t need to be mowed, weeded or reseeded. It doesn’t get muddy, either, so can be used all year round – and it will last for many years.

2.Block Paving

Block paving is a great way to create safe, slip resistant pathways on your playground. It is ideal for use in high-traffic areas, for demarcating boundaries between different sections of your playground and for creating decorative features using its contrasting textures and patterns.

Long lasting and very hard wearing, block paving is an affordable and practical way to safely manage movement in your outdoor spaces.

3. Grass Matting

If you are lucky enough to have a grassed playground area, you’ll know that there can be times when it’s not ideal to let children play on it. It can get slippery and muddy when wet and worn down by overuse. Luckily, there is an excellent solution.

When you lay rubber grass matting over your existing grassed areas, it enables it to be used all year round. Grass matting reduces slippage in the wet, prevents children getting muddy when they land directly on the soil and stops the grass wearing away. The matting can be mowed over just like normal grass, making maintenance easy.

Grass matting is an economical way to improve the grassed areas of your playground, making them safer, letting them be used all year round and reducing the need for reseeding.

4. Resin Bound Gravel

A modern alternative to tarmac or asphalt, resin bound gravel can be used to cover playgrounds or pathways. Made from a combination of aggregate gravel and polyurethane resin, this playground flooring provides a hard and durable surface which, because of its porous properties, is resistant to forming puddles or staying wet on the surface. It also makes a high-quality, easy to use surface for wheelchair access.

5. Rubber Mulch

Available in a variety of colours, rubber mulch is a soft but solid playground flooring material made from recycled rubber pieces bonded together by high-performance polyurethane. The finished result gives an attractive appearance that looks like a natural bark chip surface but, unlike real bark, is fixed in place.

Rubber mulch creates a softer surface that is ideal for playgrounds as it cushions falls, reducing the potential for injury when children are playing.

6. Wetpour Surfacing

Wetpour surfacing is similar to rubber mulch in that recycled rubber is bonded together to create a soft, impact absorbent playground surface. The difference is that wetpour surfaces are smooth and so are more useful for playing games and sports. In addition, a wetpour surface can be used in conjunction with playground markings to create safe and durable sports courts and pitches.

Available in a wide choice of colours, wetpour playground flooring makes it is possible to create your own patterns and designs using a mixture of different colours. This type of surface, common in many public playgrounds and play areas, is ideal for schools. It is free-draining, maintenance free, highly durable and wheelchair friendly. It also makes the perfect surface for schools wishing to install trim trails, climbing frames and other outdoor playground equipment.

Conclusion

As you can see from this post, the choice of playground flooring available to schools today enables you to create far safer environments which are more attractive to play on, can be used for a wider range of sports and activities and which need little or no maintenance. For more details, see our playground flooring and surfacing page.

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How to Turn a Boring School Yard into an Adventure Playground

Teacher’s put a lot of time and effort into making their school’s environment exciting and inspirational. Walls and corridors are covered in highly colourful displays, there’s always artwork on show and classrooms are equipped with the latest resources. For many schools, however, this ends at the door to the playground. In this post, we’ll give you some ideas of how to turn your boring school yard into an exciting adventure playground.

Boring playgrounds cause problems

Come break time, too many pupils are put out to pasture on nothing more than a drab rectangle of grey tarmac with only the wind to inspire them. It’s no surprise then, that lots of primary kids ask to stay in and help the teacher and the many secondary students mooch around in corridors staring at their phones.

Without things to do, children get bored and frustrated. This can lead to poor behaviour during breaks and cause problems in the lessons that follow. It also means that many children don’t get any exercise during the school day. After being sat at a desk for a few hours, you want them to run around and burn off a bit of energy: it’s good for both their physical and mental health. Instead, many children just stand around waiting for the bell, eating crisps and sipping sugary drinks.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The outside of your school can be as inspirational as the inside, helping children to be healthier, more creative and more motivated for their next lesson. Here are some ideas about how you can achieve this in your school.

1. Get them playing team sports again

You don’t need to spend a fortune to inspire kids to play team sports during break times. Installing playground markings on your school yard surface marks out pitches and courts for a wide range of team games that kids love to play. There’s football, futsal (5-a-side football), netball, rounders, cricket, tennis and basketball to choose from. You can even get nets and goals to equip them fully. Once installed, you just need to put out a selection of bats and balls for the children to use.

The great thing about installing playground marking for team games is that it encourages lots of children to participate. You can also use the markings for PE lessons.

2. Drive them up the wall – literally!

We’ve all had lessons where the kids were ‘climbing the walls,’ – well, now this can happen in a good way. At ESP Play, we supply a selection of climbing walls specially designed for children to play on. Not only are these are great for getting pupils active, they are also good for helping kids challenge themselves and for developing resilience. Above all, they are fun to climb on and a great way to encourage physical activity.

3. Build an obstacle course

When it comes to playground design, one of the features that most schools want to install is some form of obstacle course. One of the best ways to do this is with a Trim Trail. The big advantage of a Trim Trail is that you can choose your own elements. There are lots to choose from, too: balance beams, climbing nets, scramble under nets, duck and dive posts, striding posts, jungle bars, wobbly bridges, tight ropes… the list goes on.

For schools with limited budgets, Trim Trails offer you the potential to build your adventure playground up over time, perhaps adding an extra element or two each academic year. You don’t need to buy everything at once.

For versatility, Trim Trails also come with easily interchangeable features, giving you the ability to adapt your playground equipment for different purposes or different groups. It also means you can give children lots of different challenges using the same pieces of outdoor equipment.

Kids love to play on Trim Trails, which is why you see them in so many public parks. Now you can have them in your own playground and inspire even more children to play.

4. Max up the fun with Freeflow

Our Freeflow obstacle courses have evolved through years of working with teachers and student councils to create the ultimate outdoor playground equipment. With a wide range of modules to choose from, you can create a bespoke adventure playground that meets the needs of your school and contains your pupils’ favourite obstacles.

Not only are our Freeflow courses irresistible to play on; they also help your pupils develop strength, stamina, coordination and team building skills. They can completely revolutionise your playground and increase your pupils’ enjoyment of your outdoor space.

5. Don’t forget to add bells and whistles

To add variety to your playground design, consider using outdoor play equipment for less sporty children to use during break times. For example, we have a range of creative outdoor equipment including musical instruments, stages, and structures which can be used to encourage roleplaying adventures. We’ve also got sandpits and water play equipment, nature equipment and lots of games ranging from hopscotch to chess.

Conclusion

Developing your outdoor space can have lots of benefits for your school. In enhances pupils’ enjoyment and can have a positive impact on their physical health and mental wellbeing. It can also help improve behaviour and progress in the classroom.

As you can see from this article, there are lots of options open to you to turn your boring school yard into an exciting adventure playground. If you want to discuss what we can do for you, give us a call on 01282 43 44 45.

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How Schools with a Small Playground Can Still Offer a Wide Range of Sports

Not every school has an abundance of outdoor space which can be utilised for sports and for those that have nothing more than a small playground or a slither of greenery, there can be real issues for providing sporting opportunities for their pupils. Luckily, however, there are practical and affordable solutions that help you to make the most of the limited space available. In this post, we’ll take a look at the best ones on offer.

The problems of having limited outdoor space for sport

Schools sports are important to young people. It's where most pupils learn how to play a range of different sports, some of which they may end up playing well into their adult years. They help to keep children fit and healthy, especially in these modern times when children don’t get to play out like previous generations. And then there is the pleasure of taking part in the great tradition of inter-school sports competitions. All of these things are limited and sometimes even denied to children at schools with lack of adequate outdoor space.

But whilst we can’t all have Eton’s 7200ft, £17 million, Olympic rowing lake, there are ways which those schools deprived of space can still provide a range of sports for their students.

Playground markings for school sports

Playground markings provide the easiest, most practical and most affordable solution to schools looking for ways to offer more sports to their pupils. At ESP Play, we provide playground markings for a wide range of team sports including football, futsal (a version of 5-a-side football), tennis, netball, rounders, cricket and basketball.

All these can be used on a typical playground hard surface, are inexpensive to install and are hard wearing. This means you can double up your school playground as your outdoor sports venue and provide your pupils with pitches to play on during break times.

For those schools that are seriously short of space, the ultimate solution can be found in our multicourt markings. A multicourt consists of futsal, netball and basketball markings overlaid on a single court. The markings for each sport are in a different colour, making it easy for pupils to identify the right ones. This gives schools the ability to utilise the same space for three separate sports.

Playground markings can make your playground work for you much more effectively. They enable you to teach a wider range of sports without the need for extra space or for huge investment.

Equipping your new sports area

Of course, if you want to offer these sports, you will need to equip them. At ESP play, we provide the equipment, too. We supply netball and basketball nets and also a goal unit with combined football goal and shooting net – ideal for a multicourt and for general playground use. We even have a recessed goal unit. In addition, we also provide ball walls, which are ideal for cricket and for football practice.

Sport-friendly playground flooring

If you want to improve your playground design even more, you can always replace all or part of your existing playground surface with sport-friendly playground flooring. For example, you can install artificial grass together with your desired sports markings. This would provide you with a far superior playing surface that was good enough for interschool tournaments and safer for the children to play physical sports on.

Artificial grass surfacing also requires much less maintenance than a real grass pitch. There’s no mowing, no replanting and no mud. Once it is installed, it will stay in peak condition and with its hardwearing materials will last for years. Many of our clients have used artificial grass to convert part of their existing playground for sports use whilst still granting children access during break times.

Artificial grass is not the only solution for an improved playground sports surface. Wetpour surfacing is another popular choice for many schools. Made from recycled tyres, it is a long lasting, soft surface that’s highly effective in reducing injuries through falling. This makes it ideal for use on pitches and courts where physical sports are played. There certainly won’t be as many grazed knees or kids going home with holes in their trousers and tights as there would be on a tarmac surface.

The other benefit of a wetpour surface is that it can be coloured. So, you can colour it green to give it a more professional sports colour – or opt for something less traditional such as using your school’s colours. The choice is yours.

Conclusion

With playground markings, outdoor playground equipment and a range of safe and hardwearing playground surfaces to choose from, it is easier than ever to for schools with limited outdoor space to provide the facilities for a range of sports. It’s no longer necessary to find extra space to do this, you can simply convert your existing space and use it for both sporting activities and normal playground use.

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New Funding Will Create Healthier Generation

On 28 February 2017 Education Secretary Justine Greening announced that, in addition to the PE and Sport premium, schools are to receive £415 million to help pupils benefit from healthier, more active lifestyles.

ESP Play have transformed over 2,500 playground across the UK but more recently are focussing on sustainable outdoor learning. They are able to provide AfPE approved courses to staff within schools that leads to better quality provision, healthier children and a more inclusive sports environment.

Primary, secondary and sixth-form colleges will be able to use the new funding to pay for facilities to support physical education (PE), after-school activities and healthy eating. This includes indoor and outdoor facilities.

Schools will also be able to use the new healthy pupils capital programme to improve facilities for children with physical conditions or support young people struggling with mental health issues.

Education Secretary Justine Greening said:

“Schools can really help our children get a healthy start in life from exercise and sport, and also from knowing what a healthy diet means. It’s not only good for them while they’re in education, but the health and wellbeing benefits can last a lifetime.

“That’s why we’re investing £415 million in facilities to support sports, after-school activities and promoting healthy eating, so we can secure the future health of our young people.”

Local authorities and larger multi-academy trusts will receive an allocation for schools and will make decisions locally on how this money is invested. Smaller multi-academy trusts (MATs), individual academies and sixth-form centres will be able to bid for grants for specific one-off projects.

ESP Play are a leading provider of outdoor learning equipment and training to the Education sector. In addition, their sustainable approach to improving physical activity across all levels of education and their free outdoor activity design service has led to them delivering a record number of project over 2016.

The new funding will be available in 2018 to 2019. All state-funded primary, secondary and sixth-form schools in England will be eligible to receive funding

Information on the allocation formula, spending guidance and bidding criteria will follow in the summer.

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