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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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

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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

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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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