The Role of the School Playground in Tackling Climate Change

Climate change is the burning issue of the moment – and rightly so. The impact of human activity on the planet is leading to disastrous consequences for all life forms, including our own. Unfortunately, it is our children and their children who are going to suffer the worst of these effects and if we want to reverse the situation, then we urgently need children to learn about what the causes are and how they can bring around change.

That learning starts in school and one of the best places for it to happen is in the playground. Playing outdoors is vital if children are to start understanding the environment and how to take care of it. Outdoor play encourages children to develop a love and an appreciation of nature, something they seldom get the chance to in today’s screen-obsessed world.

Climate change is already having a devastating impact on young lives. Respiratory infections, due to polluted air and water, are estimated to take the lives of two million under-fives each year. The effects upon weather mean that we are seeing more storms and flooding in some areas and worsening droughts in others. These cause large scale devastation, sometimes with hundreds of thousands of people being made homeless and lacking basic essentials like food, water or shelter, which in turn lead to famine, disease and long-term poverty.

In order to improve the climate, we need to make drastic changes. Although the UK may have committed to being carbon neutral by 2050, this will have no significant impact if the rest of the world doesn’t follow suit. The key to success lies in changing attitudes to climate change and here, society has a critical role to play by exposing children to the wonders of being outside.

Unfortunately, there’s plenty of research to show that this is not the case. When away from school, children are increasingly confined indoors and don’t get the opportunity to enjoy unstructured play. There are many reasons for this: fear over the child’s safety, parents too busy working, too much homework, not enough local places to play, the attraction of the internet. While the causes are many, the result is that children begin to see the outdoor world as alien. Unlike their parents did, they don’t go out to play. They don’t climb trees, throw sticks, collect conkers, roll down hills, explore woods and streams or do anything much that links them to nature. The fear is that this lack of connection with the outdoors will make them even less environmentally friendly than the generations that have gone before.

The onus, therefore, is on schools to make up for what society is failing to provide. Thankfully, there is a great deal that schools can do, on a daily basis, to get children learning and playing outdoors.

early years outdoor play

To foster the sheer enjoyment of being outside, break and lunchtimes are best left for unstructured play and there are some fantastic pieces of outdoor playground equipment that can be used to encourage involvement. From sports and games markings to climbing frames and obstacle courses, these are great for encouraging children to have fun in the open air.

It’s not just during breaktimes, however, when the playground can play a part. Many schools are now developing their own outdoor classrooms and there is a wide range of outdoor resources available for all curriculum areas. Indeed, the outdoor learning space has a lot to offer, especially when doing active lessons or work that requires observation of the natural world, such as art, geography and science.

In addition, there has been a big increase in the number of schools providing access to nature areas. More schools are developing on-site ‘forest school’ environments, often using pre-existing grassed or garden areas of the premises. These are then added to with shrubs and trees, trellises, planters, water features, bug houses and bird feeders to give children more experience of the local flora and fauna. Nature areas are extremely popular with children who are not only fascinated with the plants and creatures but who find them peaceful havens in which to get some much-needed time out during the busy school day.

Some schools have begun to start other climate-friendly activities. One which is very popular is the ‘Walk to School Day’, which aims to get children more active and reduce pollution outside the school gates. Run once a week, these often include walking chains where children and parents will pick up classmates on-route so that no-one is left walking alone. Just imagine how much pollution could be cut If every school did this?

Taking part in such initiatives is useful in getting children and their parents to think about the environment and how they can make a positive impact. In doing so, you encourage them to develop a more caring attitude and take ownership of their actions.

early years outdoor play markings

Summing up

The future of the planet lies in the hands of today’s youngsters. If we are to prevent climate change having a catastrophic impact, not only do we need to teach them about how to make the world a better place, we also need to foster the desire to care for it. You can’t do this without giving them access to the outdoors. Only by being outdoors will they develop a sense of awe and wonder at nature. As a school, you have the opportunity to make this happen.

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Winter is Coming – How to Make your Playground Winter Friendly

The big disadvantage of having long summer holidays is that much of the school year covers autumn and winter when its wet, windy and cold. When it comes to break times and lunchtimes, bad weather can bring misery to staff and students. However, while we cannot control the seasons, there are things that schools can do make their playgrounds winter friendly. Here we’ll look at the issues and offer some useful solutions.

The problem with winter

From October to March, lunch and break times can be a problem for schools. If its chilly, children are often turfed out into the playground where they huddle like penguins, seeking shelter from the cold wind. When it's raining, the newly seeded grass gets turned into a quagmire and the whole school gets covered in a layer of soil and dust. Then the miserably damp children come back in, steaming up the windows and complaining about being wet. Perhaps worst of all are the times when outdoor play is cancelled and both the children and the teachers are trapped in their classrooms. On days like these, the kids are hyper, behaviour is poor and even the staff get irritable. When this happens, teaching and learning is a struggle.

There are other disadvantages, too. Children do not get the benefit of exercise when they are hunched over from the cold; and when they get kept in, they miss out on the natural daylight they can get exposed to and the vitamin D it produces. All this can have a negative effect on their physical and mental wellbeing.

Making playgrounds more winter friendly

While there is no way to fully protect your playground from the elements, there are quite a few things you can do which will make it a better place for your students and increase the number of days that you can let them out to play.

Provide them with shelter

Providing pupils with protection from the rain and the worst of the wind can help reduce the number of days you need to keep them indoors and help make them more comfortable while they are outside.

You are not going to need shelter for every child as there are always going to be those who’ll be happy playing out regardless of whether it’s a heatwave or a force nine gale. However, for those who spend their winter breaktimes wandering along corridors, hiding in doorways or loitering by the toilets, a covered shelter can be a game changer. A great example is our octagonal shelter with solid sides, decking and seating. While it still gives exposure to the fresh air, it keeps the rain off and provides some protection from the cold and wind while giving children somewhere to sit, chat and even move about.

Other alternatives include shaded pergolas with seating and planters, pitched-roofed shelters, sail shade shelters and play huts.

Generate warmth

The simplest way to stop pupils getting cold outside is to get them moving. Inspiring children to participate in physical activity during the coldest days will help them build up body heat and keep warm. The more physical they are, the warmer they’ll become.

There are many activities that can be used to do this, but perhaps the best are sports and games. If your playground is lacking inspiration, then an affordable and quick solution can be to install a range of playground markings. Sports markings for football, netball and basketball, for example, are great ways to get large groups of children running around and keeping warm. You can complement these with a selection of fun and games markings that small groups can use to play together. With everything from roadway markings to hopscotch, there are lots of ideas to choose from. Of course, if you have a bigger budget available, you can provide a much wider selection of activities using trim trail obstacle courses, climbing frames, play towers and climbing walls.

The other big advantage besides keeping the children warm when outside, is that you are encouraging them to remain active at a time of year when they perhaps get the least chance to do so.

Keeping things clean

Wet weather invariably means mud and dirt getting everywhere. Children’s uniforms get caked in it and those highly polished school corridors get covered with a layer of dull, brownish silt by the end of the day. And as everyone who works in a school knows, it’s silt that loves to smear itself over clothing: cross your legs, sit on the floor, drop your coat – you get covered in it.

The main cause of mud coming into school is wet soil that sticks to the soles of shoes – particularly those with grip marks where the soil doesn’t get wiped off.

The ideal solution to prevent soil coming into schools is to replace your grassed playing areas with artificial grass. Doing this has several benefits: surfaces don’t get muddy, so you can use them all year round and children don’t bring the mud into school. Nor do they get covered in it if they slip. There’s no need to have the grass regularly mowed and reseeded either.

If your budget doesn’t extend to artificial grass, or you just prefer real grass, then another alternative would be to use grass matting, which is a safe and durable way to protect grass from erosion due to heavy use and which prevents contact with the actual soil underneath.

Conclusion

If you are looking for ways to make your playground more winter friendly for your pupils, hopefully, the suggestions given here can help. With shelters to protect them from the elements, a selection of playground markings or activity equipment to get them warmed up and cleaner surfaces to play on, you’ll be able to make break and lunchtimes more fun and increase the number of days your pupils get the chance to play outside.

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Outdoor Sensory Play Solutions for EYFS

Providing EYFS pupils with opportunities for sensory play is key to helping them develop the skills and knowledge needed for the more challenging learning they will face in primary school. At this age, children rely on their five senses to explore the world around them and through this they learn to understand and find meaning in things. In this post, we’ll look at the importance of sensory play and at the resources you can use for your pupils.

Developing creativity

Deluxe Mud Kitchen

Sensory play is ideal for helping children to be creative. Give children access to one of our mud kitchens and within minutes they’ll be mixing up mud pies, building sand castles, cooking up strange, exotic meals and making unusual 3D shapes. They’ll also be learning about textures, material composition, weights and measures; all quite challenging concepts to explain in the classroom but easy to discover through play.

Sound play is also great for developing creativity. Children love to bang things to see what kind of noises they make, and with easy to play outdoor music equipment, such as drainpipe drums, chimes and xylophones, there’s a world of creative discoveries to be made. Children can learn how different instruments make different sounds, how size can affect notes or that the harder they hit an instrument the louder it gets. They can also explore rhythm and pattern and develop the skills to play the instruments.

Solving problems and making decisions

Problem solving and decision making are crucial cognitive skills that children need to develop, and sensory play offers plenty of opportunity for this. Our colour puzzle table, for example, challenges children to connect squares by using the correct colour combinations, similarly, our tower puzzle uses size and colour to develop skills in sequencing and patterns.

A more adventurous way to use sensory play for bringing on problem solving skills is to install one of our play towers or some Trim Trail obstacle course equipment. These are hands-on experiences where children need to explore different pathways in order to learn the best route to get from one end to the other. They will face problems along the way and have to make decisions about how to move forwards – all whilst having lots of fun climbing, swinging and sliding with their friends.

Getting kids talking

Sensory play can be the catalyst for linguistic development in young children. By using different senses to explore their environment, they are naturally motivated to express their feelings and describe their experiences. Obviously, the more experiences they have, the more opportunity they get to use language and thus develop a wider vocabulary through participation. Whether that’s splashing in a water play pool, watching bugs in an insect habitat, doing a spot of outdoor painting, or pretending to be Thomas the Tank Engine on a wooden play train is all down to the child’s curiosity.

Social and emotional skills

Sensory play can be the catalyst for linguistic development in young children. By using different senses to explore their environment, they are naturally motivated to express their feelings and describe their experiences. Obviously, the more experiences they have, the more opportunity they get to use language and thus develop a wider vocabulary through participation. Whether that’s splashing in a water play pool, watching bugs in an insect habitat, doing a spot of outdoor painting, or pretending to be Thomas the Tank Engine on a wooden play train is all down to the child’s curiosity.

Opening up the world

The idea behind sensory play is to open up all five senses to explore the world. Whilst taste is often best left to the kitchen and the canteen, outdoor play does provide ample opportunities for all four of the other senses.

When it comes to touch, outdoor sensory equipment provides a variety of textures, temperatures and shapes to discover: the warmth of a wooden beam, the shape of a puzzle piece, the roughness of a bark pit and the sliminess of mud. For sound, there are the chimes of a xylophone, the pounding of pipe drums, the splash of water and the twittering of birds at the bird table. Smell is always a difficult sense to cater for, however, at ESP Play we have an excellent solution with our outdoor planters which enable you to grow a wide variety of scent producing plants for children to experience. As for sight, our equipment comes in all shapes, sizes and patterns and can be brightly coloured, too. We have everything covered!

Conclusion

Providing opportunities for sensory play enables children to develop their sensual intelligence and from this, a whole range of important skills that will underpin their future learning – both in school and in day to day life. Hopefully, this article will have shown you the value of sensory play and given you some ideas of how to equip your EYFS playground.

For more information, call us on 01282 43 44 45 or check out our products page.

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How to Create a Forest School Style Environment in Your Playground

Forest schools are highly regarded centres that inspire pupils to develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning in a natural environment. Whilst many schools use these centres for one-off day trips, the benefits are limited because of the infrequency of visits and because only a small number of pupils get to go.

The ideal situation would be to have a suitable ‘natural environment’ area on your school premises where all children could have access to nature all year round. This way, everyone can take part and the benefits can be sustained.

Whilst some schools are lucky enough to have such an area within their grounds, many do not. However, this does not mean you cannot go some way to creating a natural environment. In this post, we’ll explain how this can be achieved.

Identifying an Area

playground seating

The first thing you need to do is identify the part of your school premises which you want to use for your forest school nature area. Ideally, it will be a place which has the following qualities:

  • It is naturally grassed. (There are ways around this if needed.)
  • It can be sectioned off from the playground and reserved for special use.
  • It gets sunlight.
  • It has sufficient space for your needs. (How many children will you want to have access at any one time?)
  • If it already has established trees, even better.

Getting The Right Groundworks

The best ground on which to create a natural environment is one which has soil and grass. This way you have the right environment for planting and for attracting the fauna that lives in the soil and grass.

If this is lacking, there are two alternatives. You can create raised beds on top of hard surfacing which can then be turfed over, or you can use a different type of playground surfacing, such as rubber mulch, in combination with a series of planters

Installing Trees

For a real forest school environment, you should plant trees in your nature area. Trees encourage a much wider ecosystem to develop, they create shading and they make the area look far more natural rather than simply garden-like.

If you have a naturally grassy area, it may be possible to plant trees directly into the ground. However, this may be impractical if the roots are likely to cause problems with building works or if you are using raised beds. However, this does not mean you cannot have them.

Many trees will grow perfectly well and to a reasonable, manageable size in large, deep planters or pots. Doing this also enables you to install a range of different trees, such as a mix of conifers and deciduous trees. You may even want to plant trees which blossom in the spring or which fruit in late summer.

Encouraging Wildlife

One of the benefits of creating a forest school environment is enabling children to observe and learn about nature in its natural environment. To do this, you need to encourage wildlife to move into the area.

This can be achieved easily with a few simple pieces of equipment. For example, our insect habitats, ladybird towers, bird tables and butterfly boxes are great for encouraging birds and insects to your area. Add a small, shallow pond for frogs and newts and you are on your way.

Hide The School Walls

To create the impression that your forest school nature area is a little more secluded and away from the school building, you can install planters with trellises. These will enable you to plant climbers, tall shrubs or bushes that can create a green, living boundary that shields your area from the rest of the school.

When this is done, children visiting the nature area will really feel like they are leaving the school and entering a natural environment. This will enable them to feel more relaxed and better inclined to undertake the outdoor learning tasks you have prepared for them.

Add Some Plants

With lots of different planters to choose from, it is possible to plant a wide range of flora in your nature area. However, if you are trying to recreate a forest school environment, ideally, you should grow plants which are found within woodland areas: ferns, bluebells, wild garlic, nettles, primroses and foxgloves, for example.

Planting a range of flowers that bloom throughout the year can ensure there is always some colour in your area. You can also plant fruiting plants such as brambles. Adding a few old logs will also encourage interesting looking fungi to move in.

Equipping Your Forest School Area

To help children learn in your nature area, there is a range of equipment you can use. For example, you can install nature boards to help them identify different types of plants and wildlife or, for more detailed examination, you can also use an investigation table or a discovery planter.

Learning through play should also be encouraged and there is plenty of den making equipment you can use, together with hollow logs and crooked benches. At ESP Play we have an entire range of Wild Wood equipment, inspired by nature, which may be the ideal complement to your forest school.

Conclusion

Giving children access to a natural environment can benefit them in many ways, including improving their learning skills and social and emotional well-being. For most schools, providing children with such an environment is something that happens only occasionally, on school trips. However, from reading this article, you should have some idea how you can provide it for all children, all year round, even if your school lacks its own natural space.

If you are considering creating a forest school style nature area at your school, call us on 01282 43 44 45 and we’ll be happy to discuss how we can help.

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