How Outdoor Play Can Improve Pupils’ Mental Health

The mental health of young people is a serious issue now firmly on everyone’s agenda. Currently, one in ten pupils suffer from a mental health disorder: that’s 27 in the average primary and 94 in the average secondary school. With increasing pressure put on children to perform well in schools and with many of them not leading healthy lifestyles out of school, the problem only looks like it is going to get worse. Add to this the deficiencies in NHS mental health care, falling school budgets and the increasing costs of accessing ed psychs and other professionals and the future looks dire.

There is, however, one area where schools can have a positive impact on the mental health of all their pupils, including those who are already diagnosed with disorders – and that is in the provision of outdoor play equipment. In this post, we’ll look at the positive ways you can use your outdoor environment to help your pupils’ mental health.

Getting them outside is the first step

The first way to improve mental health is to get the pupils outside more. Getting sunlight on your skin, even if it is cloudy, is the human body’s main source of Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps with mental health because it releases serotonin in the brain which improves mood and has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. It can even have a calming effect on children with ADHD.

One way you can extend the time children spend outdoors is to develop an outdoor learning area where lessons can be delivered in the open air. This can be achieved by installing outdoor curriculum playground equipment which is designed to cover most subject areas including maths, English and science.

With a wide range of equipment to choose from and catering for pupils of all key stages, this is a great way to get pupils out of a stressful classroom and into a stimulating environment that will enhance their mental wellbeing.

Improve mood through outdoor play

According to the Mental Health Foundation, the best way to increase positive moods in children is to have them participate in low-intensity, aerobic exercise for 30 minutes a day, three to five days per week. To fully benefit from this, the activity needs to be done over the long term.

Doing this will make children more alert and enthusiastic and help keep more serious mental health issues from developing. Another benefit for schools is that it can improve behaviour in classrooms which, in turn, can lead to improvements in pupils’ progress and attainment.

One way to encourage participation in low-intensity aerobic exercise it to provide pupils with the opportunities to take part. At ESP Play we have a huge range of equipment designed for that very purpose. Our playground markings, for example, give pupils exactly what they need to take part in an array of fast paced team sports and other aerobic activities whilst, for the adventurous kids, we have climbing walls and even Parkour (freerunning) equipment.

Reducing stress

As every teacher knows, poor behaviour disrupts learning and slows the progress of the whole class. This is why behaviour is such a big focus for Ofsted. The Public Health England report explains that “Physical activity has been linked to improved classroom behaviour across the whole school. Notable among the benefits are improved pro-social behaviour and peer relationships, with resulting reductions in disruptive classroom behaviour.”

If the reduction in disruptive behaviour is due to physical activity that improves social relationships, then it makes sense to give pupils more opportunities to do this during their free time. Most outdoor playground equipment is designed to help pupils play together in an active way, whether this is done through climbing equipment, sports equipment or roleplay equipment. Installing these in your play area could have positive benefits on behaviour and progress.

Helping with depression and anxiety

Physical activity is also very helpful for children who have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. It is often prescribed as part of their treatment. One of the things you can do to help these particular students, perhaps as part of their differentiated provision, is to give them increased access to outdoor play or outdoor learning.

Some of the best equipment for doing this would be our Trim Trails. In order to successfully negotiate through the Trim Trail would give students plenty of the physical exercise they need whilst enabling them to gain positive feelings of achievement when they successfully negotiate the trail.

As our Trim Trails have interchangeable components, you can quickly and easily make the course more challenging as time goes by, increasing the amount of physical activity they do and the sense of wellbeing they get at the end.  

For those children suffering from social anxieties or who have problems integrating with other students, installing an outdoor Allgo Gym might be a worthwhile investment. The Centre For Health at John Moores University recently did research on the benefits of outdoor gyms and showed that those who took part with friends felt increasingly more confident after using them.

An added perk

Introducing outdoor play equipment not only helps to prevent and treat mental health problems, it also has a positive impact on every student’s cognitive abilities. In a recent article in the Psychiatric Times, it was shown that pupils who took part in regular physical activity have increased attention spans and can process information quicker than children who do not. Even a single, twenty-minute session of aerobic exercise was seen to make a difference – which, of course, is about the length of the average morning break time.  


It’s amazing to think that so much can be done to help students’ mental health and wellbeing simply by getting them outside and being more active. The key to success lies in providing your pupils with the opportunities to do so and the equipment needed to motivate them. For details of the equipment we can provide for your school, take a look at our products page.


How Outdoor Play Improves Pupil Attainment

As we continually struggle to find new and better ways to improve pupils’ attainment, the one area of school that is frequently neglected is the playground. However, a recent report by Public Health England, “The link between pupil health and wellbeing and attainment” may make you think again as it shows how outdoor play equipment can have surprising benefits for your pupils’ attainment.

Break time problem-solving

According to the report, “pupils who use problem-solving skills to overcome obstacles do better academically.” One way to increase the time devoted to problem-solving skills is to encourage pupils to do it through play. This can be easily achieved by installing an outdoor trim trail in your playground.

Trim trails are fun obstacle courses which require children to problem solve as they negotiate their way around. Using the easily interchangeable trim trail equipment we supply at ESP Play, you can change the course whenever you like, giving the pupils the constant challenge of solving new problems.

Of course, using a trim trail is not restricted just to break times, it can also be used in a more structured way during lessons.

Healthy hearts mean healthy marks

Another significant finding in the report was that “Children and young people who are aerobically fit have higher academic scores.” Aerobic fitness is an issue with today’s young people: the increase in child obesity is as much to do with lack of exercise as it is to do with poor diet and many children don’t get the opportunities to play outdoors or participate in sport at home.

One way to overcome this and encourage aerobic exercise is to install playground markings. There’s a huge range of playground markings available today, many of which are designed to help with aerobic fitness. These include football, netball, tennis and basketball markings as well as fast feet, hurdles, and zig-zag steppers – to name a few. All these can be used during break times and PE lessons to improve aerobic fitness and obtain the resulting academic benefits.

Reduced disruption, better progress 

As every teacher knows, poor behaviour disrupts learning and slows the progress of the whole class. This is why behaviour is such a big focus for Ofsted. The Public Health England report explains that “Physical activity has been linked to improved classroom behaviour across the whole school. Notable among the benefits are improved pro-social behaviour and peer relationships, with resulting reductions in disruptive classroom behaviour.”

If the reduction in disruptive behaviour is due to physical activity that improves social relationships, then it makes sense to give pupils more opportunities to do this during their free time. Most outdoor playground equipment is designed to help pupils play together in an active way, whether this is done through climbing equipment, sports equipment or roleplay equipment. Installing these in your play area could have positive benefits on behaviour and progress.

Hugely improved GCSE results

Significantly improving your pupils’ GCSE results increases their potential to succeed in life and is a great boost for school morale. For most schools this is a big ask but, according to research discussed in the Public Health England report, “pupils engaging in self-development activities (including sport, physical activity) achieved 10-20% higher GCSEs.”

10-20% is a whopping increase that could make big differences to the life chances of significant numbers of pupils – especially those who lack the opportunity to participate in sport and physical activities.

The wide range of school playground equipment available enables you to cater for the diverse interests of your pupils. We have multi-sports playground markings or individual markings for cricket, tennis, futsal, football, netball, basketball and rounders. We even have an outdoor gym: a unique, body-weight only, fitness facility designed specifically for secondary aged children.

And for children who aren’t sports minded there is plenty of fun based outdoor play equipment designed to increase physical activity, such as climbing walls and even a Team Adventure Zone

Does school playground equipment increase physical activity?

Whilst research mentioned in the Public Health England report proves the link between increased physical activity and improved attainment, no doubt you’ll be questioning whether investment in outdoor play equipment will actually lead to improved activity levels.

The good news is that it does. Independent research by Liverpool John Moores and Roehampton Universities has shown that 70% pupils in schools with outdoor playground equipment spent more time being moderately and vigorously active.


As teachers, we’ve long understood the physical benefits of outdoor play and to some extent its importance to pupils’ well-being. However, the research mentioned in the Public Health England report now confirms that giving children the opportunities to take part in physical activity in the playground, during free time and as part of lessons, can have a positive impact on their attainment. Our role, here at ESP Play, is to provide you with the best outdoor resources to meet their needs.


6 Key Learning Skills That Can Be Developed by Outdoor Play

As teachers, we know that children who develop key skills such as critical thinking or the ability to work with others, progress quicker, achieve more and attain better grades than their peers. However, with curriculum activities taking up much of the timetable, it’s hard to squeeze in the extra hours needed to practice and hone these skills. Thankfully, this area of learning is not confined to the classroom and with the right outdoor play resources in place, children can develop the skills during free time and in outdoor lessons.

In this post, we’ll look at six key skills that can be developed through outdoor play.

1. Working with others

There will be many times during a student’s school career when working with others will play an essential part in helping them learn. Group work and collaborative learning are key aspects of today’s classroom environment and those children who have the skills to work with other students perform better, learn more and progress quicker.

There are a number of ways you can help students develop these skills in the playground. A Team Adventure Zone, for example, is a trim trail with a difference: it’s an obstacle course designed for children to complete as a team. In order to successfully get from one end to the other, they will need to work together. This is great playground equipment to help students develop their collaborative skills whilst having lots of fun at the same time. It’s a good resource for developing critical thinking, too.

2. Creative thinking

When it comes to getting children thinking creatively it is often better to give them unstructured time in a safe environment where they have the freedom to think outside of the box. To do it right, you also need to provide the resources to motivate them and there is a lot of playground equipment that does just that.

There’s opportunity for drawing with our outdoor art and design boards or making music with our fabulous range of fixed, outdoor musical instruments. For the more dramatically minded, we’ve also got a range stages where children can rehearse and perform to fellow students. All these can be used to inspire children to engage in and develop creative thinking during break times or as part of an outdoor lesson.

3. Being personally effective

The term ‘being personally effective’ encompasses a range of skills which are useful for helping children have a more mature attitude towards learning – the ability to set goals, take on challenges, divide larger projects into smaller steps, be resilient and experience achievement.

Once again, there are a lot of these skills which can be developed through outdoor play and, with some clever playground planning from the school, these opportunities can be given. For example, climbing and traversing walls built over safe playground flooring, give children the chance to set themselves new goals and challenges. To meet those challenges, they will need to break the larger climb down into smaller steps and they’ll need to develop resilience before they finally succeed. The same skills can be learned on a whole range of kids’ climbing equipment.

4. Communication skills

Developing good communication skills is vital for a successful learning journey and needs to start at a very young age. One of the best ways to get the process started is through roleplay where children can experiment with communicating in a range imagined scenarios.

Children are good at inventing roleplay but it works best when they are provided with the props and set that can be the inspiration for their made-up worlds. Here at ESP Play, we have a wide selection of roleplay playground equipment to prompt every child into action. These include stages, storytelling chairs, play huts, bridges, a carriage and even a wooden train.  

5. Maths

Maths is an essential key skill that children will continue to work on throughout their school years but many children do struggle. Sometimes it can be helpful to learn in a more playful way, outside of the classroom.

One of the best ways to provide this opportunity is to install outdoor maths equipment in your playground. There is equipment which can be used for teacher-led outdoor lessons covering everything from simple number work to tessellation. There are also many fun maths games like battle boards, dominoes and Soma cubes that children can use during break times.

6. English

Just like maths, English is another vital key skill and there is also a selection of outdoor English resources which encourage children to continue their learning beyond lesson times. Covering handwriting and creative writing, these can be used to let children write for fun during free time or can be used for group, paired and individual work during lessons.


Key skills remove many of the barriers to learning faced by children and developing them can help pupils succeed across the entire curriculum. However, not all these skills need to be taught and practiced in the classroom. Using our school playground equipment, you can encourage pupils to learn organically, through play and whilst having fun.


7 Curriculum Areas That Can Benefit from Outdoor Equipment

When schools think about installing outdoor play equipment they often look at a playground simply as a playground and don’t consider the ways it can be used to enhance learning. At ESP Play, we’ve spent years developing products for specific curriculum areas that let you turn your playground into an outdoor classroom which can be used in lessons or for children to use during break times.

To give you an idea of what you can achieve in your own playground, we’ve put together a list of seven curricular areas that can benefit from installing outdoor equipment.

1. Communication and language

Put a stage in a playground and it can be used during lessons for performing plays, music, dance and poetry. You can make as much noise as you like without having to disrupt neighbouring classes whilst giving children the chance to express themselves in fresh air.

During break times, outdoor stages become natural focal points where groups of children will create their own roleplays to show to their friends. They really are the ultimate children’s roleplay equipment, giving pupils the impetus to communicate with those who are watching.

It is a great way to encourage development in communication and language and is ideal for English, drama and music lessons.

2. Physical development

If you want playground equipment that offers pupils great fun and can be used for physical development during free times and PE lessons, then installing a Trim Trail is the ideal solution. Exciting to play on, Trim Trails help develop body strength, stamina, balance and coordination.

One of the biggest advantages for schools is that children love to play on them – they are a natural way to encourage participation in physical activity. You can also create your own bespoke trails, putting together different elements suited to your pupils’ ages and needs. You can even install equipment with easily interchangeable parts, letting you offer an even greater choice of activities.

3. Personal, social and emotional development

Social interaction is one of the key ingredients in driving personal, social and emotional development and this can be achieved in the playground simply by laying better playground flooring or adding a range of playground markings.

Both flooring and markings are excellent ways to encourage children to play together and interact. Your flooring choice can help make children feel safer and thus make them less inhibited, whilst the wide range of playground markings available give opportunities to children to participate in traditional, modern and self-invented playground activities, games and sports.

4. Literacy

One of the main curricular areas, developing literacy is a key focus for every school. A way to enhance and expand your literacy provision is to give pupils the chance to participate in English lessons outdoors.

Working outdoors can be a great inspiration when undertaking creative writing tasks and by using specially designed outdoor English equipment this is now possible for the whole class, small groups and even for one to one work for pupils who need to work with your classroom assistant.

You’ll also find that our range of boards and writing tables are perfect for outdoor handwriting activities which some children may want to do during break times.

5. Mathematics

Another key curriculum area that can benefit from being taught in your outdoor space is mathematics. Installing curriculum focused playground maths equipment is a great way to deliver fun and exciting outdoor maths activities that free you from the confines of the classroom and enable you to cover everything from basic adding to tessellation and symmetry. They are ideal for collaborative group work and for whole class active lessons.

What’s more, with maths-based games like battle boards (battleships) and soma cubes, you’re bound to keep the learning going through break and lunchtimes too, as these naturally interactive pieces will keep children engaged and entertained even during their free time.

6. Understanding the world

Children are fascinated by seeing nature in action and giving them access to it in your outdoor play area is a great way to encourage learning whilst enabling teachers to deliver essential elements of the science curriculum.

You can achieve this by installing our forest school equipment which will enable you to create your school’s own nature garden. This wide range of science-based, outdoor equipment can be used to study plant growth and insect life cycles, grow food, feed birds and investigate soils.

At the same time, you are creating a natural space in your playground which gives children much-needed access to nature whilst encouraging respect for wildlife and the environment at the same time.

7. Art and design

Children love art and design but there never seems to be enough curriculum time available to satisfy their appetite. However, it is now possible to give your pupils the chance to do some playground painting during their free time by installing specially designed outdoor art and design equipment in your playground.

Using chalkboards, dry wipe boards or a painting station, children can take inspiration from the outdoors to exercise their imaginations and develop their creative skills. What’s great about this equipment is that the pieces are interchangeable, so you can take them down and swap them over whenever you want.

They are also ideal for using in art lessons, especially when the sun is shining and you want to take advantage of the great outdoors and natural lighting.

Your playground is one of the biggest assets that your school has, yet for many schools it is much under used. With a little bit of investment, you can turn your outdoor play area into a fully functional, outdoor learning resource centre that can be utilised during lesson times and be a source of fun, excitement and extended learning during break and lunch times.    


7 Ways Schools Can Benefit from Encouraging Outdoor Play

For the vast majority of children, the opportunity to play outside is in decline. Parents are increasingly reluctant to let children play outside unsupervised and many schools have shortened their lunchtimes to reduce the school day and save costs. Even when there is an opportunity for outdoor play, many children shun this in favour of more sedentary pastimes, particularly spending time on phones, tablets, computers and games consoles.

The lack of opportunity and inclination to undertake physical activity outside has been shown by numerous studies to have a negative impact on both the health and development of children. These studies do show, however, that children who do participate benefit in many ways and these can have both long term and short term benefits for the child.

Here is a list of the main benefits:

1. Physical health benefits of outdoor play

One of the biggest benefits of outdoor play is that it can make children physically healthier. Playing outside, where there is more space, enables them to be more active. Whether they are just running around chasing each other or participating in a game or sport, physical activity allows them to burn off calories, build up muscular strength and fitness and improve the condition of the heart.

In schools, this can be encouraged by adding simple features such as playground markings or , exciting multi-skills Zones. Research from the Liverpool John Moors University showed that adding these features to a playground could increase the amount of time children participate in moderate to vigorous activity by around five minutes per day with over 70% of pupils benefitting from increased activity.

2. Mental health benefits of outdoor play

There is a lot of concern recently about how modern lifestyles affect the mental health of children, especially the pressure put on them by schools to achieve good results. A good way to help with this is to get more children active during their free time.

One of the main recommendations for people with depression and anxiety is to take part in physical activity as it increases endorphins and reduces stress. Getting children to do physical activity can be a way to keep children mentally healthy so that these problems do not arise in the first place.

Just being outside has its own health benefits, sunlight, whether it's cloudy or not, provides children with vitamin D and can help with mood. One of the main treatments for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is to increase exposure to natural sunlight.

3. How outdoor play improves learning

Outdoor play also has a significant impact on learning. Many of the basic learning skills teachers now want children to use in lessons are developed and honed through playing outside. These include collaboration, resilience, concentration and focus. By installing outdoor educational equipment such as trim trails, children can be motivated to take part in activities that will help develop these skills which can then be transferred to the classroom and more academic subjects.

Another benefit for teachers and parents is that taking part in physical activity can have a positive impact on behaviour. Studies have shown that when students take part in exercise they are much more likely to remain on task during lessons and be better behaved.

4. Developing creativity by playing outside

One of the most important things about outdoor play is that it is generally unstructured and this is ideal for letting children use their imaginations and develop their creativity. This is especially important for younger children who benefit enormously from taking part in roleplay to learn about the world in which they live. However, this doesn’t mean that older children should be ignored. Roleplay and performance equipment can encourage children of all ages to take their creativity to new levels.

5. Outdoor play to develop social skills

Whilst we can tell children how to interact socially, they are only going to develop those skills through practice. Playing outside where adults can keep an eye on things from a distance provides the ideal setting to help them do this whilst feeling safe.

Encouraging children to play together or take part in team sports can help them to communicate more effectively, learn social rules like turn taking, make new friends and show them how to resolve disputes and become skilled negotiators. You can encourage this by providing playground equipment that is specially designed to create social interaction.

6. Helping children become independent

One of the primary aims of education is to help children become independent adults. Once again, outdoor play has a role to play in making this happen. When in the playground, a child is much less supervised than in a classroom and needs to make their own decisions about what they want to play and who they want to play with.

This can be encouraged by providing equipment in which children need to make decisions, for example, when tackling a team adventure zone, they may need to choose their own route and negotiate unfamiliar pathways by themselves, helping to develop self-reliance.

7. Motivating children to take on new challenges

Modern outdoor play equipment allows you to offer more exciting challenges with far less risk of injury, such as climbing equipment built over safe playground flooring. These can help children to try new things and take on challenges which they might, previously, have been afraid to do – all without the intervention of adults. This is great for developing self-confidence and well-being as well as giving children a sense of achievement when they succeed.

Outdoor play has a lot of benefits for children and is something parents and teachers need to encourage. Getting it right can lead to happier, healthier children with better social skills, increased independence and a more positive outlook on life.

To give children the best opportunities for outdoor play, you should consider the equipment and facilities you provide to motivate them to participate. If you need inspiration for this, take a look at our wide range of outdoor play and sports equipment.