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.

literacy and phonics

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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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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