4 Ways to Tell if Your Playground Needs an Upgrade

All school playgrounds eventually need an upgrade. Years of heavy use and constant exposure to weathering means playground surfacing and equipment will, at some point, need replacing. At the same time, the priorities of schools change with new initiatives requiring outdoor spaces to be redeveloped to suit modern curricula and teaching methods. So, is your playground in need of an upgrade? In this post, we’ll discuss some of the things that will help you answer that question.

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1. Your playground has safety issues

If you have play equipment already installed in your outdoor spaces, you’ll be aware of the need to carry out regular inspections to ensure that everything is safe for your pupils. With daily visual inspections, monthly operational inspections and annual inspections from an independent RPII qualified inspector, schools should have a clear idea of whether existing equipment and surfaces are in good working order and present no risk to their students. If there are issues, however, then they need addressing quickly in order to prevent the potential of pupils coming to harm.

When it comes to health and safety, it is always better to be proactive than reactive. Rather than waiting for a piece of equipment to fail an inspection before replacing it, it is safer to upgrade it when it is getting towards the end of its lifecycle but is still safe to play on. Things to look out for are rusting or fatigued metalwork, broken or cracked plastics, loose fittings, worn, slippery or poor-draining surfaces and decaying timber.

2. Your outdoor equipment is tired and unappealing

Today’s classrooms and corridors are vibrant places designed to create stimulating and engaging learning environments. Children also need to be stimulated and engaged in the playground but this can be hard to achieve when the surfaces and equipment begin to look tired and lose their appeal. When playground markings wear away, sports fields become bare soil and once brightly coloured equipment is now ugly grey steel with odd patches of chipped, sun-bleached paint, such dilapidated outdoor spaces stand in stark contrast to the indoor environment and do little to motivate pupils to play or learn outside. If a playground looks past its best and too few children are making use of it, then it’s time for an upgrade.

3. Health and wellbeing not catered for

Today, improving health and wellbeing is often a primary reason for the decision to upgrade a playground. With 20% of year 6 pupils in 2018-2019 being obese and 12.8% of school-aged pupils suffering from a mental disorder, the UK has some serious health issues to tackle when it comes to young people. While physical exercise alone is not a panacea, it offers many benefits for both physical and mental wellbeing. Regular physical activity can help reduce obesity, prevent the onset of some mental disorders and assist those living with existing disorders to cope better.

Unfortunately, modern lifestyles mean few children get the hour of physical exercise that medical experts say they need every day to stay healthy. Often, the school playground is the only place where such an opportunity exists; though whether they take advantage of it depends to a great extent on the type of playground equipment available to them. Different pupils have different interests and to get them more active you need a range of equipment that will motivate even the most reluctant pupils.

4. No opportunity for outdoor learning

For young children at the beginning of their educational journey, outdoor play is a critical part of the learning process. For this reason, many EYFS providers strive to create playgrounds that offer a seamless transition between the indoor and outdoor areas, enabling learning to flow from one to the other without interruption. Indeed, playground designs that offer the opportunity to combine fun with the pursuit of learning are now highly popular.

The educational benefits of being outdoors, however, have not gone unnoticed by the teachers of older students and, today, outdoor classrooms are much sought after by both primary and secondary schools. While PE has always taken advantage of the school’s outdoor areas, modern playgrounds can now install subject specific equipment that is purposely designed to cover virtually every curriculum area.

Another sign that your school needs a playground upgrade is that it doesn’t provide suitable opportunities for learning. With so much equipment available and indoor space at a premium, it is an opportunity not to be missed, especially as pupils really enjoy learning outdoors.

Conclusion

When deciding if your school playground needs an upgrade, there are four basic questions you may wish to ask. Is your current playground safe for pupils? Does it provide a stimulating environment with fun equipment? Do the playground facilities offer opportunities to improve pupils’ health and wellbeing? Is your outdoor space adequately equipped as a place for learning? If the answer to any of these is no, then it may be time to consider an upgrade.

If you’re looking for inspiration, take a look at our wide range of outdoor play and learning equipment.

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5 Tips to Get Your School Playground Ready for Spring

Now we’re into the new year, it will only be a short time before the onset of spring. As this means your school’s outdoor spaces are going to get much more use than over the winter, it is a good time to prepare your play areas for the forthcoming season. In this post, we’ll give you some tips not just on getting the playground ready but also on sprucing it up.

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1. Inspect your playground

Although your playground and outdoor play equipment might not see much use during the winter months, they may take a bit of a battering from the bad weather. Heavy rain, strong winds, freezing temperatures and ice can all cause damage to surfaces, equipment, walls and fences. To make sure that everything is in a safe and working order, a detailed operational inspection is required. These can be carried out by school staff or by a qualified operational inspector.

The results of such an inspection will help determine whether any necessary repairs, replacements or maintenance needs to be done to ensure the space is fit for use.

2. Carry out regular maintenance tasks

All school grounds need some maintenance work following the winter period. This could include trimming hedges, reseeding grassed areas, annual timber treatments, repainting chipped surfaces and tightening loose fixtures. Getting these done as early as possible helps to extend the longevity of your equipment, keeps them in good working order and makes the playground more appealing to play in.

3. Protect grassed areas

Grassed areas are very popular with children, they are great for sitting on during warm days and are ideal for playing a wide range of sports and games. However, as spring tends to be one of the wettest seasons, they can become very muddy, making them unfit for use and potentially a safety hazard.

There are two solutions for this. The first is to protect existing lawns with grass matting, a protective rubber mesh that enables grass to grow but prevents it from being eroded or becoming too muddy. This simple but effective solution makes grassed areas usable throughout the year. Alternatively, you can replace existing grassed areas or even create new ones using artificial grass. This creates a softer, multi-use surface that can be used in all weathers and which needs little maintenance.

4. Add some spring colour

Everyone loves spring but it’s hard to enjoy it at school when the environment lacks a touch of nature itself. This is easy to remedy. If you have green spaces, use them to plant spring favourites like croci, snowdrops, daffodils, bluebells and tulips. If you don’t have an existing green space, you can always buy a few planters and trellises that will bring a much-welcomed touch of greenery and colour to your schoolyard. If you want to encourage wildlife as much as plant life, you should also consider installing bird feeders or a bug house.

5. Equipment for the spring curriculum

Spring often plays a part in the academic curriculum with children learning about how plants grow, how the weather changes and even writing poetry or creating art about the rebirth of nature. If such topics are part of your curriculum calendar, then there are some useful pieces of outdoor equipment you may want to have installed once spring arrives.

The Switch Weather Station is an ideal way for children to carry out studies of the local weather. With a built-in barometer, hydrometer, thermometer and water gauge, as well as ways to record cloud cover and wind strength, it lets pupils examine a wide range of weather features in a hands-on way.

Another great resource is the Discovery Planter which allows children to examine and measure how plants grow in various conditions including letting them see what’s happening beneath the soil. This works perfectly with the investigation table where children can analyse and measure what they find in an area of the ground.

Finally, as spring is often the time when children are asked to plant a seed and measure how it grows, the Growing Tree has been specially designed as somewhere outside where you can house all those plant pots. Indeed, if you are looking at growing a variety of plants, including vegetables and the ever-popular sunflower, there are a variety of growing boxes and digging pits you can also use.

Conclusion

The onset of spring will see your playground and outdoor spaces coming back into full use, not only as somewhere to play but as a place for learning. To make sure they are ready, it is a good idea to start planning now. Hopefully, the tips provided here will make sure your outdoor areas are safe, well maintained, pleasant to be in and fully equipped for all the things you want to use them for.

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EYFS Playground for Westbourne Primary School

Westbourne Primary is a larger than average-sized, two-form entry primary school in Bradford, West Yorkshire, catering for around 475 pupils from nursery age through to year 6. The school had recently appointed a new headteacher who immediately identified that improvements needed to be made to the quality of EYFS outdoor provision. When choosing a playground developer to undertake the project, the headteacher carried out in-depth due diligence by assessing eight different companies before making a final decision.

The challenge 

Upon appointment to their new post, the headteacher immediately found the EYFS outdoor space did not enable Westbourne Primary School to deliver high-quality provision for its pupils. The area was tired, outdated, in need of serious cosmetic improvement and lacked the facilities pupils needed. The existing space did not offer suitable progression between the indoor and outdoor provision and the majority of activities needed to be teacher-led. The lack of opportunity for children to initiate their own play, to free-flow or self-discover new experiences was also a concern.

Before Installation

The brief

ESP Play was asked to design and install a new playground area that was more inviting, stimulating and engaging for EYFS children. As part of this, the development needed to provide a variety of play and learning experiences, including those where children could initiate and take part in free play. At the same time, the headteacher wanted to expand the outdoor opportunities that pupils had to develop their communication and language skills and to participate in problem-solving activities.

The project

ESP Play began by undertaking a thorough site survey before working with the school to design a new playground which would meet educational and school improvement objectives required from its investment. Once the design was agreed, a commencement date was established. Work began by installing new surfacing to the playground. This involved a variety of different surfaces, used to define the different play zones. These included block paving, resin bound gravel and artificial grass, some of which included playground markings, such as the ‘Roadway’. We then proceeded to build the water-play feature and raised messy play area.

The playground design included several pieces of climbing equipment, including an underground tunnel with an artificially grassed mound, log stairs, twisty challenges and a large, centrepiece Tangled climbing frame. In addition, we made much use of the available wall space by installing a magnetic water wall, body warping mirrors, whiteboards and chalkboards. A wooden play hut, tepee posts, triangular stage, benches, picnic table and various other pieces were also installed.

The results

The finished design transformed the outdoor space for Westbourne’s pupils, providing more opened areas for play, that were both safe and inviting for children to play on. Our carefully created zones meant space could be used more effectively and safely while providing a much wider range of age-appropriate activities for children to participate in.

After Installation

The outcome

As a result, outdoor EYFS provision is much improved at the school. Pupils are able to take part in far more free play and learning activities and do so more independently. There are also more opportunities to engage in communications and develop language skills and to problem-solve.

Overall, the school was very impressed with the educational knowledge ESP applied to the design and with the quality of the final products and installation. All areas had relevance and purpose but retained an open-ended interpretation of use. The school was delighted with the quality of the finished play area. The service was praised as the installation took place in school time without disruption to the school day. Attention to detail from design, product selection, quality of product and EYFS relevance and purpose was praised from the chair of governors, the Trust CEO, the headteacher, EYFS lead and teaching staff.

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What Are Trim Trails and Why Are They Great for Schools?

If you asked most people what a Trim Trail was, they wouldn’t be able to give you an answer. Unlike a climbing frame or play tower, the name doesn’t really give the game away. This makes Trim Trails the unsung hero of the British playground because, in fact, they are one of the most popular forms of playground equipment in the UK. You see them everywhere, in parks, public play areas and, increasingly, in the school playground. In this post, we aim to explain exactly what a Trim Trail is and show you why they are great for schools.

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What is a Trim Trail?

A Trim Trail is a children’s obstacle course composed of different pieces of apparatus laid out to form a series of fun-filled physical challenges. The aim is for the child to get from the start to the finish – though where they start or finish is usually down to them.

What pieces of equipment make up a Trim Trail is entirely dependent on the choice of the school and this is usually based on the age, ability and interests of the children for whom it is created and on the space and budget the school have available. Though, when it comes to budget, the Trim Trail can be added to over time.

What pieces of equipment can be used in a Trim Trail?

There are many individual pieces of apparatus that can be used to create a unique Trim Trails course. These include:

  • Balance beams
  • Balance challenges
  • Chin-up bars
  • Challenge nets (climbing rigging)
  • Dip bars
  • Duck and dive (under and over) posts
  • Jungle bars
  • Leapfrog posts
  • Log passes (wobbly log balance beams)
  • Log stairs
  • Log steps (wooden stepping stones)
  • Log strides
  • Log weaves
  • Meet and split balance bars
  • Overhead ladder bars (for swinging)
  • Rope traverses, including zig-zag traverses
  • Shuffle bars
  • Spinning log balance bars
  • Step and jump posts
  • Twisty challenges (twisted rigging)
  • Tyre pass (wobbly tyre balance challenge)
  • Tyre steppers
  • Wobbly bridges
  • Wobbly planks

 

There is also a range of interchangeable Trim Trails. These are rope challenges built on apex, cube or square frames, which come with a variety of rope designs that can be changed frequently to ensure the children always have different obstacles to play on. These can be incorporated into standard Trim Trails courses and are designed for the ropes to be easily changed over. There are many different rope challenges you can choose from.

Pupils of all age groups can use Trim Trails

Trim trails products are divided into four categories: early years, simplified, intermediate and advanced. The products in each category get increasingly more challenging and, in some cases, they are higher off the ground or are designed for taller children. Early years pieces are obviously designed for EYFS pupils. While simplified work well with infants, intermediate with juniors and advanced with secondary, the wide range of abilities within any cohort of students means schools may want to include items from more than one category into their trail. Here at ESP Play, we’re more than happy to give advice on what works well.

Why are Trim Trails great for schools?

Trim trails offer four great benefits to schools. They are fun to play on, help pupils develop a range of important skills, improve physical health and contribute to mental wellbeing. One of the reasons you see so many Trim Trails courses across the country is that, even from a very young age, children love to play on them. The challenges they present and the excitement of trying to overcome them make them irresistible to many children.

Those same challenges, however, help children develop a range of skills. For the youngest, these include physical skills like balance and coordination but, beyond this, they teach all children how to handle risk, solve problems and develop resilience – all skills which can be transferred to the classroom and which are essential for life after school.

With obesity being a rising issue for our society and increasing numbers of pupils being overweight, it has never been more important to get children active. According to the NHS, youngsters should get an hour of quality physical activity every day. Unfortunately, modern lifestyles mean fewer young people get the opportunity to play outside with their friends out of school and, often, the only real chance they get is during school break and lunchtimes. Introducing a Trim Trail course gives children the apparatus they need to participate in physical activity and, with a range of different equipment, it is possible to get them doing a variety of health benefitting exercises – climbing, swinging, jumping, fast steps, etc.

Regular physical activity is also beneficial for mental wellbeing, indeed, according to the Mental Health Foundation, it can increase self-esteem, reduce stress and anxiety, help prevent the development of mental health problems and improve the quality of life of those who already have such a problem. With 12.8% of UK pupils now living with a mental health disorder and schools under increased pressure to take care of those affected and help prevent the trend getting worse, a Trim Trail can make a positive contribution to a school’s efforts.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this post will have helped you put the right name to the popular pieces of outdoor play equipment you see in playgrounds up and down the country. Trim Trails are thrilling obstacle courses made up from apparatus of your choice and which not only offer exciting playtimes but help develop skills, make children physically fitter and bring benefits for mental wellbeing.

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All-Weather Outdoor Play, Sports and Learning Solutions for Schools

Wet breaks are something every teacher dreads. Instead of a much-needed cuppa in the staffroom, you’re stuck in class with thirty cooped up kids. It’s noisy, chaotic and stressful. What’s more, it's probably unnecessary. Today, playgrounds can be created that enable suitably dressed pupils to go out in all but the worst weather. Indeed, you can now install surfacing and shelters that let children play, do sports and even learn in an outdoor classroom all year round. Here, we’ll look at the options you can choose.

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All-year playground surfacing

One of the biggest problems with school playgrounds in bad weather is with the playground surfaces. Grassy areas get muddy, asphalt gets puddles and both become slippery safety hazards. Feet get wet, shoes get caked in mud and someone always gets injured in one way or another.

Those things, however, don’t need to happen. The simple use of grass matting, a form of protective rubber mesh that is placed over the top of grassed areas, prevents the soil underneath from being churned up during wet weather but leaves space for the grass to grow through. The area can be used all year round, without the risk of it turning into a quagmire or the associated hazard of slippage and the cleaning up operation needed to remove thousands of muddy footprints from the corridors and carpets. You’ll also benefit from not having to constantly reseed or even re-turf the grassed areas.

Perhaps more innovative is wetpour surfacing. Made from recycled rubber granules bonded together with resin, this free draining playground surface provides children with an area where surface water quickly drains away, preventing puddles and limiting the chance of ice forming. What’s more, its textured surface provides excellent grip in wet weather, reducing the potential for slippage. Perhaps best of all, however, if children do slip or fall, the absorbent texture of the rubber materials means they’ll have a cushioned landing, minimising the possibility of injury. Resin-bound rubber mulch provides similar protection. If you still want a hard surface for your playground, you can also opt for the fully permeable resin bound gravel. Both this and wetpour surfaces can be used with playground markings and come in a variety of colours.

All-weather sports surfacing

At least when the wet bell goes its only playtime that’s disrupted, for PE teachers, however, bad weather can cause serious disruption to curriculum provision. Besides preventing planned lessons going ahead, bad weather means PE staff have to find alternative lessons to teach, often at very short notice and sometimes without the availability of a suitable indoor space.

All-weather sports surfaces ensure continuity of curriculum delivery in all but the harshest of conditions. The aforementioned wetpour surfacing is an ideal all-weather surface for sports and can be marked out for a wide range of sports pitches and courts, including multi-court markings which can be very helpful for those with limited outdoor space. There are also a number of training markings which can be installed, there’s even a multi-skills zone.

For schools which require a higher-standard of all-weather sports surfacing, artificial grass provides the ultimate solution. Catering for all sports, including football, hockey and netball, they enable PE lessons, extracurricular training and match fixtures to go ahead uninterrupted throughout the year. Various markings are available and the artificial grass is available in different lengths to suit your needs.

The stay-dry outdoor classroom

Outdoor classrooms have become very popular over the last decade with many schools seeing the benefits that open-air learning brings and the advantages of doing more exciting, active lessons where children have the space to move around and make use of the outdoor environment. One of the downsides is that, too frequently, these lessons take place only during the warm spring and summer days and as a result, rather than being scheduled into a scheme of work, they usually only happen on the hoof when there’s a particularly sunny day.

One way to extend outdoor teaching throughout the school year is to install a class-sized shelter. Our octagonal shelters, for example, come with a range of purpose-built features that make them ideal for such purposes. They are roofed, to keep out the rain and provide seating for the whole class, with windbreaker side panels to keep cold breezes off the children’s backs. Benches are provided for seating and these are arranged in an octagonal formation, making them ideal for circle-time activities. The shelters can even come with whiteboards or blackboards preinstalled.

Conclusion

Bad weather can seriously impact day to day school-life, closing down playgrounds, halting PE lessons and preventing outdoor learning from taking place. However, with the right surfacing and shelters, it is possible to make use of your outdoor spaces in all but the harshest of weather conditions.

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