Outdoor Learning – Teaching Creative Arts in the Playground

outdoor creative arts

The school playground is the ideal place for delivering the creative curriculum. Away from the confines of the classroom, the openness of the playground gives children the freedom and space to unleash their creativity and explore their inventiveness. But how, as teachers, do you facilitate learning in the outdoor space? Here, we’ll look at some of the exciting activities children can participate in in the playground and the types of equipment, now available, that help children develop creative skills outdoors.

Getting musical

Everywhere you go you’ll hear music. It’s an integral part of all our lives and is supported by a huge, varied and very successful industry in which there is a multitude of career options. Despite its popularity, few pupils ever end up taking music it at GCSE and beyond and so miss out on those exciting careers. One of the reasons for this is that there is a lack of opportunity to learn the skills and explore musical creativity.

One way to overcome this is to make musical instruments accessible in the playground for use during outdoor music lessons and during free time. This, of course, is difficult, as instruments are expensive pieces of equipment, kids are likely to damage them and there’s little in reserve to buy replacements.

Instead of handing out what’s left of your dwindling string and wood sections in the hope that they’ll come back in one piece, a far better option is to install purpose-built outdoor percussion instruments that are designed to be banged around by kids and are made to live outdoors.

When it comes to creativity, our outdoor musical instruments give younger pupils the chance to experiment with sound and rhythm, make up tunes, practice skills and work in an ensemble. And with drainpipe drums, xylophones, chimes, washboards and more to choose from, you’ll find these instruments are excellent for children of all interests and abilities.

Artful adventures

The playground is undoubtedly one of the best places to deliver the art curriculum. With people, landscapes, nature and architecture to inspire creative ideas and the movement of natural light to provide a range of different moods, it adds a gamut of opportunities not available in the classroom.

That said, it’s difficult to practice technical skills, work with new media or explore different art forms without the right equipment. Coming up with a masterpiece isn’t easy when you’re sat on a soggy bit of grass trying to stop the sheet of paper from being blown off the backing board. It’s a shared experience that most adults will have of their school days.

Luckily for today’s young learners, this no longer has to be the case. At ESP Play, we have developed outdoor art equipment that helps teachers deliver the curriculum and which enables children to learn effectively, whether they are in lessons or just enjoying being creative during their free time. This includes chalkboards, painting stations and whiteboards which are either free-standing, tabletop or are incorporated into specially designed picnic tables. For those who are interested in exploring alternative media, there’s even a textile weaving board.

Playground performances

Drama is a vital subject in schools, not just for developing creative skills but for building confidence and improving communication. It also plays a valuable role in the teaching of English and PHCSE, helping children explore characters, themes and plot, as well as the real-life situations and feelings that children will need to deal with as they grow older.

Most children like to act, especially when it's improvised roleplay and they can use their creativity to make up their own characters, situations and worlds. This is made easier for them when they are given the right stimulus to invent. ESP Play’s range of imaginative outdoor equipment is designed to do exactly this, offering a range of inspirational apparatus, such as trains, pirate boats, carriages, wooden bridges, tunnels and shop kiosks that are ripe for improvisation.

For more formal performances, we also have a range of outdoor stages which come in different shapes, sizes and designs to suit different playground settings. These are ideal for outdoor drama lessons, rehearsals and performances, as well as for children to create their own plays and dance routines during their free time.

Conclusion

Creativity should never be underestimated in schools – it is, after all, the highest level of skill according to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Fostering a love of the creative subjects helps children acquire skills that are transferable across the curriculum, making them creative thinkers as well as accomplished artists, musicians and performers. Enabling creativity, however, requires children to have greater freedom and the space to explore, which is why the playground is the ideal place to deliver the arts curriculum. And with the right equipment in place, anything is possible.

For more information about our range of creative playground equipment, visit our Products page.

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6 Ingenious School Playground Furniture Designs

Playground furniture

While traditional wooden benches and picnic tables will always have a role to play in furnishing a school playground, today they are joined by a growing collection of other playground furniture that provides a range of practical uses for a variety of different purposes. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the more ingenious ones available.

1. Wheelchair accessible picnic tables

Traditional picnic tables aren’t particularly practical for wheelchair users. Indeed, they can be seen as a subtle form of social exclusion. Though someone using a wheelchair can position themselves at the end of the table where there are no seats to get in the way, the support bar that holds the legs of the table together prevents them from getting close enough to use the tabletop like the rest of their friends. To use it at all they need to be able to lean forward, which might be impossible for some children and even for those that can, it’s not user-friendly.

A wheelchair-accessible picnic table simply has one of the benches removed. Doing this allows the wheelchair user to get as close to the surface as everyone else – helping them feel part of any conversation and use the tabletop to rest their elbows, put their lunch boxes on or read a book. It’s a practical solution and, importantly, makes your playground seating inclusive.

2. Playground amphitheatres

If your circle times are often plagued by soggy bottoms from children having to sit on damp soil, the playground amphitheatre is your ideal solution. Made from sturdy logs and available in one, two and three-tier sizes, the largest able to seat up to 30 children, they provide comfortable circular seating ideal for group discussions, drama, story times and any other activity you could use them for. What’s more, their attractive shape and tiers are a natural draw for pupils who just love to use them to chat with friends during breaktimes.

3. Easel tables

Great for both learning and play, these are picnic style tables that have been transformed into sit down easels that children can use for a variety of artistic pursuits. There are three different types to choose from: a drywipe whiteboard, chalkboard and a magnetic board, with the boards raised at a slant to face the child. All easel tables are double-sided so pairs of children can sit together on either side, working individually or collaboratively in their chosen medium.

4. Story telling chair and mushroom seats

A story telling chair surrounded by mushroom seats creates the ideal storytelling circle to get young children engrossed in the magical pleasures of a good literary adventure. The high backed wooden chair with its rustic arms and half-moon and star design makes a perfect centrepiece to draw children’s attention, while the yellow mushroom-shaped seats with their red spots are a fun and inviting way to sit and enjoy the story. Made from moulded multi-coloured rubber crumbs, they are safe and comfortable and come in two different sizes.

5. Planter seating units

Want to give your children somewhere to sit with a touch of nature? Planter seating units provide both. Made from wood, they provide a comfortable bench for children to sit on but instead of being supported by legs, the benches rest on sturdy planters in which you can grow flowers, shrubs or climbers. Ideal for placing in green areas of your playground, or indeed, to help create a green area if you don’t have one, they provide a practical place to sit with all the benefits of mother nature.  They come in small and large sizes and there are even corner versions available.

If you have trees in your play area, you could also consider a hexagonal tree bench.  Designed to go around the entire trunk of the tree so that the children can sit back and lean on it, they offer a quiet escape from the busier parts of the playground while also helping to keep children sheltered from the hot sun or light showers.

6. Crooked benches and tables

Who needs nice straight benches or picnic table when you can find a gnarly crooked one to sit on? We know which one young children would prefer. Purposely designed to look crooked, they are, of course, extremely sturdy and safe to use but with added fun built-in. There are benches of different sizes, a picnic table and two special versions, the crooked pine tree bench and crooked compass tree seat, that have a tall wooden pine tree-shaped post as their centrepiece. If you’re looking to create a playground with a sense of magic and wonder, these are the perfect seating solutions.

Conclusion

With a little bit of inventiveness, the playground furniture of today provides some unique improvements on the standard pieces you find everywhere. They make playgrounds more inclusive, provide greater opportunities for play and creativity and make the playground more enjoyable and inviting for everyone.

For more information about all these pieces of playground furniture, visit our Seating page.

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Outdoor Classrooms – A Breath of Fresh Air for Post-Lockdown Schools

outdoor classrooms

The long-awaited return to school has now commenced and staff and pupils across the country are facing school days which are radically different to those they remember. The need to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will place many restrictions on schools, impacting not only the delivery of the curriculum but on school life as a whole. An outdoor classroom can make a big difference, providing a safer learning environment in which children can experience a little bit of normality. Here, we’ll take a closer look at modern, outdoor classrooms.

Why schools need outdoor classrooms

Life in the post-lockdown school is going to be far different than what it was before the pandemic. Movement will be severely restricted, both within the school itself and inside the classroom. In secondary schools, where pupils are used to moving from lesson to lesson, many will now find it is the teachers who move while the children stay put. Not only will this prevent pupils from having access to the specialist equipment needed to study the curriculum effectively; it also means they’ll spend most of the day stuck in the same room. And with social distancing essential within the classroom, children of all school ages will have far fewer opportunities to move around or interact.

The effects of this upon pupil wellbeing and academic progress could be significant. Children are much more likely to become anxious about going to school and frustrated, even bored, during the school day. This can impact their mental wellbeing and impede their motivation, especially when the lack of subject-specific equipment, like science or technology apparatus that can’t be moved from classroom to classroom, prevents teachers delivering the curriculum properly.

In such a stifling environment, the outdoor classroom offers a breath of fresh air. Indeed, the circulation of outdoor air, combined with the additional space pupils have to learn, means many of the restrictions enforced inside the classroom can be relaxed. Movement will be freer, with children able to work in small groups more effectively, perhaps carrying out more experimental and investigative work that the new normal won’t permit indoors. The need to keep voices quiet will not be so urgent, either.

At the same time, just taking a break from the same indoor space, even if it is just for a small part of the school day, can break the monotony of being at the same desk, in the same classroom, six hours a day, five days a week. It offers the potential for increased mental stimulation, improved motivation and better wellbeing.

Equipping the modern outdoor classroom

While there is nothing wrong with getting pupils to hoick their chairs out into the playground for a lesson, there are plenty of more modern and stimulating alternatives. Today, there is a plethora of outdoor learning equipment available, including subject-specific resources covering many areas of the EYFS, primary and secondary curricula.

Starting with the basics, playground seating comes in a wide variety, ranging from fun mushroom seats and storytelling chairs for younger learners to full-class size, octagonal shelters with built-in seats, whiteboards, windbreaking backrests and that essential roof that lets you use it in most weather conditions. This, however, is only scratching the surface; there are tables, benches, amphitheatres, handwriting tables, sit down easels and much more available.

When it comes to delivering the curriculum, there is a multitude of outdoor classroom equipment available for teachers to use. This includes interchangeable, subject-specific work panels, affixed to permanent posts, that cater for almost every curriculum area. Able to be taken down at the end of each lesson for cleaning and storage, with the post then left for the next teacher, they are an ideal solution for outdoor learning. They can be used to display learning objectives and instructions or for pupils to write, draw, measure, calculate and take notes. Subject-specific versions are available for art, design and technology, English, geography, history, maths, MFL, music, PE and science, and include features such as abacuses, coordinate grids, timelines, moving clock faces and much more.

There are also more elaborate types of equipment, such as weather stations for measuring and monitoring precipitation, temperature and wind, or biology investigation tables that can be used to look at soil samples and see how plant root systems grow underground. When it comes to music and drama, there are outdoor stages to perform on, amphitheatres to perform within and fun, outdoor, percussion instruments, like xylophones and drainpipe drums, to make music with.

Conclusion

An outdoor classroom offers a touch of normality to post-lockdown school life. Working in a safer outdoor environment with fewer restrictions and much more space to learn can bring much-needed relief from the monotony of being stuck in the same space. As a result, it can improve pupil wellbeing and motivation and, when well-equipped with subject-specific, outdoor classroom equipment, gives teachers far more scope to deliver the curriculum.

For more information, visit our Outdoor Curriculum page.

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4 Ways to Tell if Your Playground Needs an Upgrade

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

literacy and phonics

1. Your playground has safety issues

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

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

2. Your outdoor equipment is tired and unappealing

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

3. Health and wellbeing not catered for

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

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

4. No opportunity for outdoor learning

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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5 Tips to Get Your School Playground Ready for Spring

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

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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