The Importance of Nature in the School Playground

It has never been more important to provide a natural space in the school playground for children to play in. Nature offers both benefits and opportunities, but the way we live today means children have very limited access to it. A form of social deprivation that has a lasting effect, it’s a problem where schools can, in some ways, make a difference. Here, we’ll look at what value a nature area can bring to the school playground.

Addressing sustainability

The number one issue facing the human race in the twenty-first century is the environment. The pollution and destruction created by the way we live are having a hugely damaging impact on nature and us. Carbon emissions, toxic engine fumes, industrial leaks, plastic pollution, deforestation, the list goes on. The consequences, of course, are also widespread: global warming and climate change, the loss of natural habitats and extinction, and impoverished health.

Tackling such a global issue is a gargantuan task that needs everyone to understand the issues and, more importantly, change the way they live to become more sustainable. This, however, is harder to do for those whose access to nature is minimal. Nature poverty makes it hard for children to truly appreciate the wonders of the environment: the variety of flora and fauna and their critical role in maintaining fragile ecosystems.

The way children live today makes it difficult for them to spend time with nature, especially those living in urban areas. Few get to play out in green areas as much as their parents did, many don’t have gardens at home and lots of those that do are seeing nature being stripped out to make way for car parking and decking.

A nature area in the school playground which is freely accessible during breaktimes can make a real difference to children’s appreciation and understanding of nature. It will help them learn to value it in a way that makes them want to lead more sustainable lives. At the same time, that area will also provide other benefits: the greenery will improve the local air quality, it will have beneficial effects on the local microclimate and will become a new habitat for plants and wildlife.

Enriching lives

A school nature area benefits children in many ways. It’s air-cleansing, oxygen-enriching properties, for example, can make the playground a healthier place to spend time, especially for those schools located near busy roads.

Adding greenery also has mental health benefits. Green is the most calming of colours (its why actors wait in a green room before going on stage) and this can help pupils reduce stress and anxiety and restore a bit of balance after the challenges of the classroom. Indeed, such areas are highly inviting and on warm days, you’ll find groups of children naturally gravitate towards them to enjoy the peaceful experience of just sitting in the sun and mopping up the vista of plants, shrubs and trees around them.

Nature zones are also excellent for more vigorous physical activities. Though you may not want pupils to climb trees and roll down grass bankings (something the National Trust says every child should have experienced by the time they are 11 and ¾), they are perfect places to install natural wood play equipment like climbing frames, Trim Trails and play towers, that blend in perfectly with the area.

Nature areas are also ideal for the outdoor curriculum. They are great places for storytelling circles, offer unlimited opportunities for art classes and are the very best place to investigate the local soil, flora, fauna and weather. They also make the ideal spot to grow those sunflowers and runner beans whose study is a key feature of the primary science curriculum. With such a wide variety of outdoor curriculum equipment available today, a nature area can be a valuable resource for enriching children’s learning.

Creating a school nature area

Many schools already have suitable areas on-site, though not all of them allow children access because they are near to car parks or away from the main playground. Redesigning your outdoor space to provide access and installing or moving fencing to keep children safe from traffic can overcome these often easily solvable problems.

For schools with tarmac playgrounds, landscaping may be needed to remove some of the hard surfacing to create a nature zone in the most suitable place for plant life. Planters and trellises can be used to create the boundaries and internal environment, allowing the installation of living walls and the introduction of small trees, shrubs and a variety of plants. The area can be landscaped and turfed, using grass matting to reduce erosion and to prevent the area from becoming muddy, or if you choose, you can install artificial grass. Though this isn’t real, it will complement the plants and brings the benefits of never getting muddy or needing cutting. The visual result will be more or less the same. The finishing touch will be to add things that encourage wildlife to the area, such as bird tables, butterfly boxes and insect habitats.

Conclusion

Giving children access to nature, especially those who are most likely to be deprived of it, can have enormous benefits. It can change their attitude to sustainability, improve wellbeing and health and help them deal with the pressures of the classroom. For schools too, it offers the ability to improve the school environment for all and provides greater opportunities for an enriched outdoor curriculum.

For more information, visit our Nature and Garden page.

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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.

literacy and phonics

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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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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Best Child-Friendly Playground Climbing Equipment

Schools and private nurseries are installing climbing equipment in playgrounds all over the country, but which is the ideal solution for your playground? In this post, we’ll take a look at four exciting types of child-friendly climbing equipment, so you can see the range on offer and judge which is the best for the children in your care.

Trim Trails

Trim Trails are a brilliant way to create exciting obstacle courses in your playground and turn bored kids into eager participants. If you are looking for the ideal way to give your pupils fun things to do and inspire them to undertake physical challenges, then this is the ideal solution.

One of the best things about building a Trim Trails course is that you are able to design your own. This means you can choose the right pieces of equipment to match the needs of your pupils and the constraints of your space and budget. And there are lots of different Trim Trail elements you can choose from, there are climbing nets, balance bars, chin-up and dip bars, log climbers, jungle bars, striding posts, wobbly bridges, clamber under and over challenges, swinging logs and many other obstacles.

Trim Trail equipment is designed to encourage physical activity and to develop resilience and self-esteem. We have three sets of Trim Trails, simplified, intermediate and advanced, all of which cater for different ages or abilities and you can mix and match to cater for everyone from EYFS to secondary age.

Besides out traditional Trim Trails, we also have a range of interchangeable Trim Trails. These have easily interchangeable components that enable you to change elements of your course so that children can have a new challenge every day.

Freeflow Climbing System

The concept behind Freeflow is to create a playground where children design their own challenge. With input from the school council, schools can create a bespoke climbing experience, choosing from a range of modular post structures and interconnecting pieces.

Built on a grid structure, Freeflow is a piece of climbing equipment that has no defined start and end. Pupils can hop on wherever they choose and are free to move around the structure in a way they find most enjoyable – hence the name Freeflow.

Like the Trim Trails equipment, Free Flow is designed to encourage physical activity, stamina, strength and coordination and there are plenty of modules you can choose from to create your own structure: tyre bridges, traverse walls and nets, rope crossings, crazy trails and much more.

One of the advantages of Freeflow is that, even after it has been installed, you can continue to add new elements to it. So, if you are restricted by budget, you can add a new section each year. Check out the Freeflow designer kit to see the full range of modules.

Tangled

Tangled is part of the ESP Play wooden playground equipment range and, as the name suggests, focuses on rope play. Inspired by spiders’ webs and ships rigging, Tangled is one of the most popular playground choices in schools across the country. 

Designed especially for younger pupils, this equipment comes in sizes suitable for children from EYFS all the way through to KS2. Ideal for climbing, balancing, swinging and mastering tricky manoeuvres, there are currently eight separate elements you can put together to create your ideal Tangled ensemble.

With enchanting designs and wonderful names, e.g. cobweb, tarantula, black widow and wolf, these pieces not only motive children to undertake physical activity but inspire creative roleplay too.  

Play Towers

If you are catering for younger children or only have limited outdoor space, our range of play towers might be just what you are looking for. We have a wide selection of towers to choose from and they provide lots of opportunities for children to have fun and take part in physical activity: tunnels, bridges, slides, sliding poles, ramps, rope nets and climbing walls.

Of course, young children love making up their own adventures and this selection of towers provide everything they need to inspire great roleplay. There are towers and turrets, flags, drawbridges and pitched roofed dens.

Conclusion

As you can see, there is a huge range of options you can choose from if you are looking to install high-quality climbing equipment in your playground. All the pieces mentioned here are designed to be safe for children, are sturdily constructed and built for constant heavy use. You also have flexibility in how you can mix and match individual components, enabling you to create a truly bespoke climbing structure that meets your exact needs.

For more information or for help with design, contact us on 01282 43 44 45. We’ll be glad to help.

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How to Design a School Playground – 5 Key Tips

A well-designed school playground can be a real asset. With the right layout and outdoor play equipment, it can offer a wide range of benefits in health, behaviour, inclusion and even attainment. It also means happier pupils. Getting your design right, however, can be difficult. So, to help, our design experts have put together these five key tips to help you design your perfect school playground.

1. Make it Inviting

If you are going to invest in school playground equipment, you want your pupils to take advantage of all the new things you’ll provide for them and the best way to do this is to make your playground an inviting place.

To do this, start by making sure you install your new equipment in a place that is easily accessible to all pupils. Keep it fairly near to the school building so children don’t have to walk far to get there and make sure there are adequate pathways to it; no one wants to traipse through a quagmire in order to play.

Being overprotective of your new playground design can also make it uninviting, so avoid barricading it behind wire mesh fencing. Making it look like a prison yard is not going to encourage kids to play.

2. Design A Place of Discovery

One of the best ways to design a playground is to layout your equipment so that it leads children from area to area in a voyage of discovery. For example, if you have a trim trail, make sure, when the pupils reach the end of it, there is another enticing piece of equipment waiting for them to play on.

Climbing towers can be great for discovery, too. Locating them in the centre of the playground means that when they climb to the top, they can see the all the other pieces of equipment spread out around them. You can add to this by putting a favourite piece of equipment facing the bottom of the slide.

If you have a quiet space that is sectioned off from the rest of the playground, divide it up into mini areas so children have to pass through secret gateways to get in. For example, your sand and water area may lead to a nature garden and from there to a sensory area.

3. Build in Elements of Risk

Managing risk is a life skill that all pupils need to learn and the school playground is the ideal place for them to do this in a safe and measured way. Risky play is also fun and can be a great way to boost self-confidence.

There are many pieces of outdoor play equipment that provide an element of risk. Balance beams, climbing walls, rope equipment and monkey bars, etc, provide pupils with exciting ways to challenge themselves and manage the risks they face. Of course, make sure all the equipment and playground surfacing is designed to keep your children as safe as possible.

4. Quiet Areas

All playgrounds should provide a quiet space for children. Some pupils won’t like noisy areas and will feel more comfortable and secure where it is less busy. Others will just want to take a break from playing on the bigger pieces of equipment.

If you already have a green space on your school grounds, then consider putting in some adequate seating or even some play huts and dens where small groups of friends can chat quietly together. If you haven’t a green space, you can create a nature zone with lots of planters, bird tables and bug houses. In warmer weather these are great places to take out paper and paints or to spread out some blankets and a box of books for children to read in the sunshine.

5. Use Zone To Cater For Different Groups

A well-designed playground will be inclusive and cater for the needs of all pupils. One of the best ways to achieve this is to divide it into clearly defined zones so that there is a range of different activities available for all.

Discussing the design with your pupils will help you understand what kinds of things they would like and this can be useful when deciding on the zones you want to include. Typically, you’ll find children wanting a sports area, a climbing or obstacle course area, an area for roleplay and creative play, a quiet/nature area and, for younger children, a water, mud and sand play area. Older children will also want an area where they just can ‘hang out’.

Another reason for creating zones is that if you design a playground around a single piece of premium equipment, you may find that this gets monopolised by the more dominant children and the rest get left out. By all means, install that equipment, but make sure there are plenty of other things, including areas that will attract the dominant kids too.  

Conclusion

Designing a school playground that works for all your pupils can be a challenge. It involves a great deal of collective input and with space and budget considerations, there may need to be some compromises before a final decision can be made. If you are considering installing a new playground at your school ESP Play offer a free playground design service which can help you make the best choices for your school. Alternatively, give us a call on 01282 43 44 45, we’ll be happy to help.

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