Latest School Playground Seating and Shelter Solutions

As schools strive to improve the quality of their playgrounds and develop them into places for learning and recreation, they face two common challenges: finding practical playground seating and providing shelter from the elements. Today, there is a range of different solutions you can choose from to solve these problems and in this post, we’ll look at what they are.

literacy and phonics

Outdoor seating for al fresco eating

Lack of internal space and shorter lunch times means schools often lack the capacity to seat all children in the dining hall. This leads to hurried service, overcrowding and children turning up late to afternoon lessons. While the most common solution is to let kids who bring packed lunches eat them in a classroom, that classroom often needs a good clean-up before the next lesson starts.

One way to take the pressure off is to install outdoor picnic benches. Strong and sturdy, each one can accommodate a small group of children who can sit and eat together in comfort.

Picnic benches come in a range of sizes, shapes (rectangle or circular) and designs, most with the seating built-in. There is also a specially adapted picnic table that is suitable for wheelchair users.

Make your playground a seat of learning

Outdoor learning often involves children working in groups and there are a number of seating options that are ideal for this. These include our log amphitheatres which enable the group to form a three-sided audience with space in the middle for the teacher or another group member to present to them. Amphitheatres are available in single, double and three-tier versions, enabling you to cater for groups of different sizes. It is also possible to install a wooden stage in front of the amphitheatre to create an outdoor performance space.

Another popular solution for primary schools is to create storytelling circles using padded log seats and mushroom seats. You can add to the magic by putting one of our storytelling chairs in the centre of the circle. These are excellent for outdoor storytelling and reading sessions or for circle time.

Finally, there are specially designed handwriting practice tables. These mini picnic benches, featuring a number of switchable, ruled whiteboard surfaces, are designed for younger children to work in pairs or with one to one support.

Social seating for recreation

literacy and phonics

While all the seating mentioned above can be used by children to sit and chat with their friends during break times, there are others available as well. These include planter seats which incorporate wooden planters, allowing you to grow flowers or shrubs to create a more pleasant playground environment. If you have trees in your outdoor area, we also have a hexagonal tree bench which goes around the trunk. This is a great choice to give children somewhere shady to sit on hot days or for them to find a bit of natural shelter in the rain.

There is also an assortment of benches, including log benches, crooked benches and even benches that have green painted wooden tree posts built-in. One of our most popular benches is the sunshine seat, a version of an amphitheatre that looks like a sun with rays coming out. The rays, of course, are additional seats that help create five mini seating bays to accommodate different groups of friends.

Finally, there is also a range of games tables, mini picnic benches with an assortment of traditional board games built into the table-top, these include snakes and ladders, Connect 4, solitaire, noughts and crosses, chequers and more.

Shelters for learning

literacy and phonics

Octagonal shelters are ideal outdoor classrooms. Open to the air but with inbuilt seating, walls high enough for backrests and a roof to keep the rain or sun at bay, they offer the ideal circle for teaching and learning. They can even come with a whiteboard or blackboard and can be finished with decked flooring. You can use these shelters for a variety of outdoor learning scenarios: for performing drama or dance, for whole-class reading, class debates or as a place to base lessons which require pupils to explore the wider school environment.

Playground shelters for keeping dry

There are some days when it's perfect for playing out and some days when it’s an obvious no-no. Somewhere in between, are those days when the kids are sent out but it's cold, damp and miserable. While many will just get on and play, there are always those left huddling in corners, shivering in doorways, hiding in the toilets and wandering aimlessly around the school in a desperate attempt to find some warmth and comfort.

A shelter is a simple way to make these kinds of days a little easier on the pupils and to make break duty less of a hassle. Aside from the octagonal shelters mentioned above, there are also shaded pergolas and roofed shelters of differing sizes and with specifications that include seating. All of these can help keep the children dry in drizzly outdoor breaks and keep the sun off their heads when its in danger of causing sunburn. Put next to a wall or in a corner, they can also provide shelter from the wind.

For primary schools, our Woodland and Forest range of products include a number of play huts that are ideal for small groups of children to play in during colder weather, there are even ones with picnic tables so that they can eat outdoors under a roof.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the wide variety of seating, benches and shelters now available for schools and the number of uses they can be put to. Together, they truly allow you to create a multi-purpose outdoor space, suitable for all occasions.

For more information visit our shelter and seating sections.

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Practical Solutions for SEND Friendly Playgrounds

Pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) can lose out at school if the outdoor amenities aren't inclusive. Although every school has to provide access to the playground, once outside, SEND pupils can easily become isolated and often have fewer things to to engage them. In this post, we’ll look at some practical solutions that can transform your playground for these children.

literacy and phonics

Why outdoor learning and play are so beneficial for SEND pupils

SEND children face more barriers than other children when developing key learning skills. The lack of space indoors can restrict them in classrooms and for some, a crowded and busy classroom can be too unsettling for them to learn. Supporting them with a well-designed and well-equipped outdoor environment means they have more space and, if needed, quieter areas, where they can better take on the challenges that will help them develop and progress.

Regular outdoor play helps SEND pupils to lead happier and healthier lives. It encourages them to try new challenges, take safe risks and make mistakes – all activities that help them become, resilient, confident and independent. At the same time, the less structured nature of the outdoor playground exposes them, in a safe setting, to the unpredictable and all the lessons that teaches.

The importance of playground design for SEND pupils

Design plays a fundamental role in making school playgrounds inclusive for SEND children. One of the main focuses should be on creating discrete zones, each designed to cater for specific kinds of activity. At the same time, you need to develop a layout that enables pupils of all abilities to move easily and safely from one zone to another.

There are many factors to consider when designing such a playground. These include the kinds of equipment you wish to install, where to place the zones so as to encourage play, how to ensure everyone has physical and emotional access, providing enough space for children to play and wheelchairs to manoeuvre and, importantly, making sure the playground is safe.

For those who need quiet spaces, it’s usually a good idea to locate these near the entrance to the playground. This way, less confident children don’t see going outside as a big ordeal and can quickly go back in if they feel uncomfortable.

Aside from the zones and the equipment you use, other important design features of a SEND friendly playground include the type of surfacing you use for each zone and their interconnecting pathways and whether you introduce fences, trellises or planters to screen areas off from each other. These can be installed for safety reasons, to reduce noise, to make areas more private or simply for improving the aesthetic of the environment.

Encouraging physical activity

Although some SEND children will face challenges taking part in certain types of physical activity, all of them should have access to activities that are appropriate for them. Not only do they need this to improve overall fitness and develop skills like coordination and spatial awareness, being unable to take part prevents them benefitting from its important social aspects. Participating in games and sports helps all pupils, including those with SEND, to learn about teamwork, social interaction and following rules. Installing appropriate playground and PE equipment and safe surfacing, like wetpour and artificial grass, can help make physical activity far more inclusive and prevent SEND pupils being isolated from their peers.

Physical activity doesn’t just have to come from structured activities either. Free play on equipment where they can have fun while learning to improve balance and mobility can be just as beneficial and rewarding.

Sensory stimulation and imaginative play

literacy and phonics

Sensory activities and imaginative play are important for SEND children’s development and creating a playground that offers an array of these experiences can make a big difference. Many schools opt to create a calming sensory zone, away from the more boisterous areas of the playground, which is built to stimulate a child’s curiosity. These can include things like body warping mirrors, sand and water play, bughouses, planters, outdoor musical instruments and a wide range of other resources to touch, see, smell and hear.

Imaginative play can come in many forms. Imaginative zones can include quiet areas to sit and listen to a story, somewhere to draw, paint or colour, exciting equipment that can inspire role play, such as a sit-on train or wooden shop counter or even themed climbing towers that create magical, made-up worlds with forests and castles.

Getting in touch with nature

A school nature area can bring lots of benefits for all pupils but for SEND pupils who need quiet, calm spaces it can be a haven. Even if you don’t have the luxury of a school garden, you can create a nature area with planters and trellises and encourage wildlife to move in with bug houses, butterfly boxes and bird tables. You can also use the planters, digging pits and growing boxes to engage the pupils in gardening activities and even use investigation tables to learn about the things they discover.

Conclusion

A well designed and equipped school playground, built to meet the needs of SEND pupils, can make your school much more inclusive. SEND pupils will be able to take part in more activities with other students and have specific areas or zones that help them develop and achieve in the most appropriate ways.

For more information visit our Special Needs page.

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Ideas for Teaching Literacy and Phonics in the Playground

The TES forums are full of teachers looking for new and innovative ways to teach literacy and phonics. If you are looking for inspiration, you should consider moving some of your lessons outdoors into the playground. With the space to move around and the freedom to make a bit more noise, numerous opportunities present themselves to take your teaching to a different level. Here, we’ll explain how.

literacy and phonics

Reading in the round

When children read or are being read to, they go on an adventure of the mind. You can enhance this journey on clement days by taking them outside, away from the familiarity of the classroom where their minds will be more open to the stories and characters they engage with.

You can do this just by taking the chairs outside or by sitting in a circle on a patch of grass. What would be better, however, is if you had a dedicated story-telling place to go to. Many schools have now created these, often using artificial grass surfacing topped with circular seating. Some even create magical areas with mushroom seats and story-telling chairs

These can be used for whole class or small group sessions and the circle makes it a great place not just for reading but for talking about the stories and the language the writer uses.

Develop literacy through roleplay

To develop their understanding of literacy, children need to explore how characters react to the situations they find themselves in and make predictions about what will happen as the plot develops. One of the best ways to do this is to use roleplay, with the children taking on the roles of the characters in the story.

This is more than just acting out the story. It is putting the characters in imaginary situations that they haven’t encountered in the plot. For example, imagine what Cinderella would say to her friends when she first discovered her father was getting married. How would this conversation change once her father had died and she was left with her stepmother and stepsisters?

A story-telling circle would be a great place for this to happen, with the children acting out in the middle. Alternatively, a small stage could be erected in the playground.

Letters and phonics games

Teaching letters and phonics can be a chore and children can struggle to learn them. It makes it so much easier, however, if this takes place as part of a game where the emphasis is on having fun and the learning is a natural by-product.

Teach a child to play snakes and ladders and they soon learn the values of the numbers on the dice. The same happens when you play letters and phonics games. Luckily, some of these are available as playground markings which can be played on not just in lesson time but during break and lunchtimes as well, where they can extend learning even further.

The letters and phonics markings include Phonic Spots, Footwork Vowels and the Letter Stepper, all of which are variations of hopscotch and similar playground games.

Outdoor mark-making

Mark-making is the first step towards learning to write and children need plenty of practice in order to develop both the dexterity of the hand and familiarity with trying to recreate the shapes. At such an early stage in their development, you don’t need to concentrate entirely on developing these skills with a pencil, any mark-making apparatus will do: board pens, crayons, paintbrushes and even fingers are all helpful.

Outside, children can practice mark-making in more ways than indoors. They can paint and draw on large upright whiteboards or chalk on blackboards where they are using their hands at different angles and creating marks of different sizes, they can even recreate letters by drawing in the sand using a sandbox.

Of course, with so much variety, it is possible to get the children to experiment with different types of mark-making equipment and techniques, helping them to master skills quicker and keeping them engaged with activities.

Vocabulary charades

Charades has been a popular party game for centuries and will be familiar to many children either in its original form or in one of the many modern reinterpretations, such as Rapidough or Pictionary. Its value for teaching literacy comes in its ability to get children to think about the meaning of a word and how to communicate that to other children.

Vocabulary charades, where you give a child a word and they have to act it out to their peers, is a fun way to teach literacy and works well in an outdoor environment, such as in the story-circle. This can be enhanced by getting the children to do improvised roleplay after playing charades, during which they have to use the vocabulary you’ve been learning as often as they can.

Conclusion

With games to play, equipment to experiment with, space to explore and less concern over keeping quiet, the playground can be an inspirational learning space for children. This makes it ideal, when the weather’s fine, as a place for teaching literacy and phonics. Hopefully, you’ll find the ideas we mentioned here useful.

For more information take a look at our Outdoor English Curriculum page.

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Going Up! 6 Benefits of Climbing Frames for Primary Pupils

Take any primary aged child to the local park and they’ll instinctively head straight for the climbing frame. There’s something alluring about getting off the ground and tackling the challenges that climbing frames pose. Children love them and that’s a good thing because besides being great fun, they are also incredibly beneficial for kids of that age. It’s no surprise, therefore, that climbing frames have become one of the most popular forms of playground equipment found in UK primary schools. To understand why so many schools opt for them, here are six benefits they offer to infant and junior pupils.

climbing frames

1. Growing Independence

Pupils should leave the education system as well-rounded individuals prepared for the wider world. Integral to this is being able to think and act for themselves. The journey to personal independence begins in primary school and can be nurtured by participation in free play.

Equipment like our Free-Flow climbing frames is ideal for this purpose as pupils will need to be self-reliant and make their own decisions about how they navigate the many possible routes and negotiate each of the exciting obstacles they have to overcome.

2. Accepting challenge

Getting children to accept challenge is important if they are to meet and exceed expectations. While some children arrive at school with this trait, others need to acquire it. Climbing frames provide a fun way to do this as pupils and their peers often set themselves challenges in how to tackle the different routes around the structure. A child who has successfully managed the challenge of the jungle bars or traversing wall at break is going to be more self-confident when it comes to taking on the maths challenge in the next lesson.

3. Onboarding of learning skills

Some essential skills are best learnt not in a classroom but in the playground and in unstructured time. Three good examples of these are concentration, teamwork and resilience, all of which are vital for a child to learn well and succeed.

When children play in groups on a climbing frame, they can develop all these skills and do so in a way that comes naturally to them. For example, when playing on a Trim Trail obstacle course, they will need to develop concentration to master each of the obstacles, they will have to collaborate with friends to help the team complete the course and, until they master all of the physical skills needed, they’ll need to develop resilience when they initially fail at some tasks. The benefit is these skills are transferable and can be used to help the children study and learn better back in lessons.

4. Bolsters social skills

Climbing frames aren’t just for climbing, some have themed designs that are specially created to motivate role play. Taking part in such action adventures, with children adopting different personas in a range of made-up situations, requires a lot of social interaction. This develops social skills like communicating, negotiating and turn-taking while enabling the children to have empathy for and understanding of others. At the same time, they’ll discover the need to set rules and boundaries and learn how to resolve fallouts.

5. Promotes physical health

Playing on a climbing frame is akin to having a physical workout. Children will naturally run, jump, swing and climb in order to get from one part to the next and this requires significant physical exertion and the use of virtually all the muscles. In doing so, the activities improve cardiovascular health, increase muscle strength and enhance general fitness. They also burn calories, helping children to maintain a healthy weight.

Perhaps what’s even more appealing for the school and parents is that installing a climbing frame can motivate children to be even more active. According to Liverpool John Moors University research, when climbing apparatus is installed in a playground children increase their participation in moderate to vigorous activity by around 30 minutes per week. As a result, over 70% of pupils show an improvement in their health and fitness.

6. Good for mental wellbeing

The mental health crisis is a national issue at the moment and this affects children just as much as adults. According to the NHS, in 2017, 1 in 8 five to nineteen-year-olds had at least one mental condition, with emotional, behavioural and hyperactivity disorders being the most prevalent. While there are many possible causes of mental health disorders, children from low-income families, those under pressure to do well in examinations and those with identity or self-image issues are particularly at risk.

The issue is compounded by the lack of adequate mental health services and so schools, which look after these children on a daily basis, get very little help. Although it is not a panacea, providing young children with the opportunity to take part in physical activities, such as playing on a climbing frame, has been shown to have a positive impact on mental wellbeing.

The moderate to vigorous activity undertaken on climbing frames helps to increase endorphin levels, lifts mood and reduces stress. This can help children to be calmer, less anxious, more focussed and even better behaved. Indeed, those who take part in regular physical activity have less chance of developing a mental health condition.

Conclusion

Children are naturally attracted to climbing frames and the challenges they throw at them. Putting one in your playground offers far more than just fun, though. It helps with physical and mental health, develops social and learning skills, increases personal independence and fosters a more positive attitude to accepting challenge.

To enable your pupils to enjoy these benefits, take a look at our wide range of climbing frames.

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Green Ridge Primary Academy – Creating the ‘WOW’ Factor One Year On

We were delighted to revisit this play area one year after we completed the project.

This showcases not only the great work we do but also the fact that our play areas stand the test of time!

The project at Green Ridge Primary Academy, Aylesbury, involved creating several new EYFS areas.

The new play areas have injected a new lease of life into the Academy’s outside space and will entertain and motivate the children for many years to come!

As you can see from the play area in the photos, it is designed for children just starting their first stages of education; these years are crucial for cognitive learning and development of their social skills.

Bringing children to play and learn together in this way is central to everything we create.

Speaking to the staff at Green Ridge they have expressed their joy towards the project stating they are ‘over the moon’ with the results and the way in which the children have used the pace over the last year.

As a company, we pride ourselves in the work we do and the impact, not only for the children, but also for the staff who are able to teach more engaged and healthier young people.

We take our duty of care to our customers very seriously and we very much believe the customer service we provide is as important as any of the work we do  - before, during and after.

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