5 Ways Your Playground Can Improve Critical Thinking

Critical thinking ranks high amongst the list of skills children need to learn for life in today’s complex and ever-changing world. Teaching critical thinking, however, is a challenging process and this is best achieved when the children are engaged in activities that are both stimulating and fun to do. Taking this approach helps them develop skills to evaluate facts and evidence, make judgements and find solutions. Here are some of the most effective ways to hone critical thinking skills in the playground.

1. Provide real choice when it comes to play

Critical thinking is all about learning to make better decisions and you can encourage this by offering different activities in the playground. The more choice you provide, the more a child will need to evaluate each of those options. They’ll need to consider which activities they find the most fun, how much time to spend on each, what activities their friends might want to play on, and so forth.

A well-resourced playground can offer a wealth of critical thinking opportunities, many of which come from taking part in hands-on activities. From these, children can learn about a wide range of thought-provoking things. Take causality, for example, which is essential for understanding subjects like science and technology. Playing with equipment such as a Magnetic Water Wall, pupils can explore how forces like magnetism and gravity work. They can use this to investigate how forces and channels affect the flow of water and create pressure.

2. Peer modelling in the playground

early years outdoor play

Modelling is an important classroom technique used to scaffold pupil development. It allows pupils to make progress by observing someone with more experience or knowledge and to follow their example until the skills have been acquired. A typical example used in the classroom is when the teacher models how to write the opening paragraph of a story on the board.

Modelling, however, can also be of benefit in the playground and assist with the development of critical thinking – and in these circumstances, children often learn from watching their peers, rather than from the teachers. When a pupil sees a classmate navigate successfully across a Trim Trails obstacle or traverse a climbing wall, they’ll be observing another pupil’s critical thinking skills in action and can apply them to their own attempts on the equipment when it’s their turn.

Similarly, when observing other pupils playing on outdoor percussion instruments, such as drainpipe drums or xylophones, children can learn how the speed at which an instrument is struck affects the sound and how different pipes or bars make different notes. This can lead them to make new connections, using critical thinking to create sound patterns and even learn to play tunes. And the more they observe others and then get to apply their learning, they more they are able to make effective choices.

3. Outdoor experiments

The playground is the perfect place for pupils to explore ideas. Fire an open-ended question at them, such as ‘why do you look different in a curved mirror?’ and they can come up with the most imaginative and insightful hypotheses. Of course, whether they are right or wrong is not always important, what is, however, is the thinking skills that go into providing that answer.

An interesting activity would be to ask teams of pupils to design planes made from recycled materials brought in from home. This could be followed by a show and tell at the storytelling circle followed by a debate about which plane would fly the furthest. After this, the planes could be put to the test. Finally, the children can regroup and use their critical thinking skills to explain what they have learnt from the outdoor experiment.

4. Role play and forum theatre

early years outdoor play markings

Role play has long been a useful method for developing critical thinking and is often used for helping pupils consider social and moral issues, particularly when they are given the role of someone in a different situation to themselves.

An excellent way to teach critical thinking outdoors is to combine role play with forum theatre. Here, a small group of children role play a moral dilemma on the outdoor stage and the class is tasked with finding a resolution. Being a forum theatre piece, at any point in the performance, other pupils can stop the action to ask questions, direct the actors or replace them on stage to find an alternative solution. In doing this, all pupils get to explore the dilemma and put on their critical thinking hats to come up with the most appropriate solution.

5. Alternative communication

People are creatures of habit, often choosing the path of least resistance in how we approach life. One way to develop critical thinking is to put pupils in situations where the path of least resistance can’t be taken and where, as a consequence, they are forced into considering a brand-new approach.

Communication is a critical area for child development and the focus in schools is heavily weighted towards speaking and listening and reading and writing. An interesting and stimulating experiment, using outdoor whiteboards and chalkboards, could be to temporarily deprive children of these abilities and to ask them to communicate only through the use of colours, shapes and pictures. This would require a great deal of critical thinking as the children would need to evaluate all the options open to them and see which way of communicating was most effective. Some pupils could even come up with their own, ingenious hieroglyphics – you never know.


Developing critical thinking begins by giving children the opportunity to face challenges, evaluate options and find solutions and to do this in a free-thinking way. The school playground is an ideal place for this voyage of discovery, challenging children, in a fun and engaging way, to solve all kinds of problems, whether that’s how to traverse a climbing wall, discover the best way to build a model plane or solve a moral dilemma.

If you are looking for playground equipment to help your pupils develop critical thinking skills, check out our main products page.


Popular Early Years Outdoor Play Resources

A well-resourced early years outdoor play area is essential for today’s early years providers, as it gives children the opportunity to participate in fun outdoor activities that help them to learn while being active. When choosing your outdoor learning equipment, it is important that it meets the needs of the children in your care and helps you deliver the EYFS curriculum. Here, we’ll look at some of the most popular and fun early years outdoor play resources available today.

Water and sand equipment

early years outdoor play

Children love getting messy and playing with water and sand is not only lots of fun, it is also a brilliant way for them to experiment with senses and materials – whether that’s through building sand castles and moats, creating sand sculptures or making mud pies.

So, if you look after the kind of children that will get engrossed in water and sand play and spend hours working away at their creations, you can now bring the joy of the beach right into the heart of your nursery or pre-school with our range of outdoor water and sand play equipment. Our EYFS equipment is perfect for pre-school children, with mud kitchens, creation stations, magnetic water walls, water ball shoots and modular sand and water systems to choose from. And they are even designed to help cut down on the mess, which is great for those who are left to clean up afterwards.

Adventurous role play apparatus

early years outdoor play

Young children’s imaginations know no bounds and getting them to participate in role play is critical in helping them learn about themselves and their relationships with others and the world around them. When they do, there is a whole host of cognitive, social and communication skills being honed at the same time.

One of the best ways to encourage role play is to put the right pieces of outdoor equipment in a setting where there is the space to let imaginations run free. Here, your external space suddenly becomes a storybook wonderland: an ancient castle, a woodland kingdom or even a strange planet on a far-flung galaxy.

One of the most popular pieces of equipment chosen by EYFS providers are play towers. More than just a child’s climbing tower, these systems can include a variety of elements, such as bridges and tunnels, slides and sliding poles, ramps, rope nets and climbing walls. And to inspire those little minds, they are adorned with role play inducing designs, such as turrets, flags, drawbridges and pitched roofed dens.

Our Wild Wood collection is another popular choice as it can help give your outdoor space the feel of a woodland environment that is just waiting to be explored. Here children can have fun clambering through log tunnels, over tree trail obstacles and up a mini climbing mountain before making tea in the wigwams, play huts and dens.

Other popular choices include shop kiosks and theatre façades, which are always great for getting kids to interact and take on roles; warped mirrors that change your body into funny shapes; and wooden train and carriage structures that children can pretend to drive and travel in.

Percussion instruments

early years outdoor play - music

Mastering a musical instrument isn’t easy for pre-schoolers but they love to bang on a percussion instrument and enjoy making different notes and patterns. Now, you can add sound and music exploration to your curriculum through the use of our brightly coloured, no-skills-needed, outdoor musical instruments. These include musical chimes, drainpipe drums, a drum table, washboards, rain sound maker and xylophones. There’s also a talking tube that lets children sing and talk to each other through an underground tube.

Fun playground markings

early years outdoor play markings

Playground markings are an affordable way to create a fun playground and these range from simple hopscotch or stepping games, which can be used to help children learn basic numbers, sounds and letters, to more elaborate markings, such as the Roadway. The Roadway is a highly detailed road system installed on your playground that incorporates all the features needed to help your children learn about road safety while playing at being cars and lorries. You can even use it to drive trikes around. Its features include a road with white lines, roundabouts, zebra crossing, petrol stations, traffic lights and parking bays.


For EYFS providers looking to create a well-resourced early years outdoor play space that is both fun to play in and educational at the same time, there are plenty of options available. The challenge is to find the ones that are most suitable for the children in your care. Hopefully, by showing you some of the most popular products chosen by other providers, it will help you get a better idea of what might work for you.

For more information and to see an even wider range of ideas, check out our Early Years page.


How EYFS Outdoor Play Improves Wellbeing

Looking after the wellbeing of young children and helping them foster healthy lifestyles is critical if we are to tackle the growing crisis in child mental health. With hundreds of thousands of school-aged children referred for treatment every year, the practice of improving wellbeing should begin right from the outset of their education, during EYFS. In this post, we’ll look at how outdoor play and the equipment in your playground can help the wellbeing of the children in your care.

It's good to get outdoors

Just getting the children outside is a step in the right direction if you want to improve their wellbeing. It stops them feeling cooped up, enables them to stretch their legs and move around and puts them in a situation where the normal rules of indoor behaviour are relaxed a little. This makes them feel at ease and less stressed.

Being outside also lets nature perform its magic on the children. 15 minutes of daylight hitting their skin produces enough vitamin D to keep them going through the day. It doesn’t even need to be sunny for this to happen. Not only is vitamin D good for the bones, it’s also great for wellbeing. Deficiencies in Vitamin D are linked to anxiety, depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), so getting outside can have a positive effect on mental health.

Raising activity levels

Helping children improve their mood is another way to increase wellbeing and the best way to do this is to encourage them to take part in physical exercise. When this is done on a regular basis it helps children to have a more positive and optimistic attitude and to feel more enthusiastic about participation in day to day activities. Exercise has also been shown to have a positive effect on behaviour as it reduces the stress levels that often trigger naughtiness.

There are a number of useful pieces of playground equipment that can help EYFS children get active enough to raise heart rates. These include a variety of playground markings for encouraging activities such as hopscotch and skipping or taking part in games like football and rounders.

Providing healthy enjoyment

Wellbeing can be improved simply by providing the opportunity to do things which children enjoy and which raise self-esteem. One of the best ways to enable this is to install equipment which is fun to play on and which presents challenges that, when met, make children feel good about themselves.

Climbing challenges are ideal for this and there are many pieces of EYFS climbing equipment that have been specially designed for the youngest of learners and which can be combined together to create a bespoke obstacle course. These include a variety of balance beams, net climbers, log strides, tunnels, bridges, slides and various other exciting pieces – all safe for EYFS children to use.

In addition, there are early years’ traversing walls, tree trail coppices and a plethora of low height play towers which are ideal for short legs and big ambitions. When children complete the challenges posed by these pieces, they are rewarded with a sense of accomplishment that will lift their mood and make them feel good for the rest of the day. In turn, this will inspire them to challenge themselves even harder next time.

A space for calm and balance

Blue skies, green grass, colourful flowers and birds singing. As adults, we know that getting out into nature, even if it’s just in the garden, can help soothe away the stresses and strains of the day and restore some much-needed calm and balance.

Quiet spaces are also good for the wellbeing of EYFS children. Indoors can often be crowded, busy and noisy, so providing an outdoor space just to sit and enjoy the quiet and the natural world can enable children to unwind and recharge.

This can be achieved by creating a nature garden using planters, trellises, a few outdoor seats and even a water feature or a wind chime. Adding bird tables and bug houses also encourages wildlife into the space, bringing a sense of awe and wonder that can help children develop an appreciation of nature.

Teaching healthy habits

The new Draft Ofsted Inspection Framework 2019 puts increased emphasis on wellbeing with EYFS providers now being judged on their ability to help children “know how to keep physically and mentally healthy”.

This is essential not just because of the current mental health crisis but because of the immense pressure children will face as they move on to primary and secondary schools. This pressure puts children under a great deal of stress and can exacerbate mental health problems if they are not taught coping strategies and given the opportunities to carry them out.

At the EYFS stage, learning about how to keep physically and mentally healthy often comes through experience. Children will feel better about themselves when they participate in physical outdoor activities or learn how to relax and unwind. Providing them with the opportunities to do this is a key way to ensure EYFS providers meet their Ofsted obligations.


With nurseries and EYFS providers having to take more responsibility for the wellbeing of children, providing well equipped outdoor spaces where fun physical activity or relaxation can happen will help reduce stress, improve mood and increase self-esteem. These activities can also be used to teach children how to look after their wellbeing in the future.


6 Ways to Rejuvenate Your Playground This Spring

School playgrounds can take a bit of a battering during the winter. The effects of freezing temperatures, ice, snow, wind and rain all take their toll: eroding surfaces, splintering wood and rusting metal. So, if your playground is looking a little worse for wear as we near the end of winter, here are six tips to help rejuvenate it.

1. Improve grassed areas

Lawns, sports fields and grassed playing areas can suffer badly during the winter months. Heavy snow and rainfall make the surface very soft which can cause high traffic areas to become little more than quagmires. Elsewhere, the moist conditions make it easy for moss to invade, killing off the grass and causing bare patches to appear once summer comes. Damp is also a great breeding environment for fungus, some of which may be hazardous to young children.

The onset of spring is the ideal time to start tending to your grassed areas. Give them a trim, rake thoroughly to remove moss and reseed where necessary. While pesticides can be used on domestic gardens to remove weeds, moss and fungus, they may be harmful to children and so are not generally recommended for schools.

You can help prevent erosion and the spread of moss by covering the area with a layer of protective grass matting. For sports fields and other areas, you could also consider artificial grass which would require far less maintenance over the long term and ensure you had an all-weather surface which was constantly available.

2. Repair your hard services

Anyone who has seen the constant news coverage about Britain’s pothole problems will know that winter can have a devastating effect on tarmac and asphalt. When moisture that seeps into tiny cracks freezes, it expands and begins to break up the surface. Over time, this process accelerates and is made far worse if the surface is being eroded by heavy use. It doesn’t take long before your playground gets potholes or patches which have been worn away. Left unattended, these can spread and increase the cost of repair. More importantly, they become trip hazards that can lead unsuspecting children (and adults) to injure themselves.

Once the threat of frosty mornings and snowfall subsides, it is time to take a look at repairing your surfaces. Carrying out a repair to a small area now can save you the cost of having to do a much larger one if the damage is left unattended.

If your surfaces are in a poor state of repair and need more substantial work, it may be the time to consider a different form of surface altogether. If you need a robust, hard surface, consider resin bound gravel. This self-draining, low-maintenance surfacing is more attractive and longer lasting than tarmac or asphalt and is available in a range of colours. Another very popular choice is wetpour surfacing which has a soft padded feel and is ideal for younger children or for areas where pupils may get bumps or scrapes.

3. Get your playgrounds in bloom

The onset of spring is the perfect time to turn drab school grounds into a garden of delights. Snowdrops and croci arrive towards the end of February and are followed in close pursuit by daffodils, tulips and bluebells. Come May, we’ll see the apple and cherry blossom on the trees before the burst of colour that heralds the summer months.

If you have flowerbeds at school, now’s the time to start thinking of how to bring them to life and getting them ready for planting. If you’re short on space, don’t worry, there are lots of alternative options. Wooden planters and trellises are ideal for bringing a little colour right into the heart of your playground.

4. Look after local wildlife

It’s not only the plant life which can benefit when schools take an active interest in nature, the animal life can too. After a hungry winter, many animals will be on the search for food while others take advantage of the warmer weather to look for new homes or start breeding.

You can help out by creating a little nature reserve in a quiet area of the school grounds and installing nature equipment like bird tables, bug houses and butterfly boxes. The additional benefit is that children can use these areas to study the wildlife. Indeed, there are even specially designed information signs to help them identify species and investigation tables available.

5. Have your playground equipment inspected

Lots of schools now have play equipment installed and spring is the perfect time to get it inspected. Playground equipment will only stay safe if it is properly maintained so, after a harsh winter, there is no better time to have it tested by an authorised inspector. Doing this not only helps ensure your equipment is safe for the children to play on; it also helps improve the longevity of the equipment itself, as minor remedial repairs can prevent more expensive work being needed further down the line.

6. Replace outdated equipment

All equipment will eventually come to the end of its working life and spring is a good time to replace any old equipment with something new that can get plenty of use during the warmer seasons. If you have an inspection, this may point you in the direction of which pieces need replacing, though you may also find there are some pieces that are perhaps less popular with your pupils. Luckily, there is a wide range of playground equipment being developed all the time, as you can see from the broad selection we have on offer here at ESP Play.


Once the last frost has thawed, it is time for schools to turn their attention to the state of their playgrounds and outdoor spaces. Looking after the grassed areas, repairing hard surfaces and creating habitats for the flora and fauna are all ways to rejuvenate your grounds. At the same time, it is vital that you have your equipment inspected and that, if there’s the need or the desire, you replace some of your older pieces with something new.


How School Playgrounds Can Improve Pupil Wellbeing

The crisis in child mental health is a major concern. According to the former president of the NEU, Louise Regan, ‘Teachers are overwhelmed by the sheer number of students showing signs of mental health problems.’ Indeed, at 400,000 a year, the number of children being referred for mental health treatment is staggering. But what can schools do to help combat this rise in mental health issues? Surprisingly, making changes to your playground can have a significant impact. In this post, we’ll look at how changing your playground can help your students’ wellbeing.

The benefits of just being outside

One simple way to improve wellbeing is to make sure pupils get outside where they naturally feel freer. Getting them outdoors frequently, even for short periods, can help stop stress levels building up and make it easier for pupils to manage the day without feeling overwhelmed.

Going outdoors also exposes the children to sunlight which, even in cloudy conditions, helps their bodies create vitamin D. This essential substance is known to help with the production of the hormone serotonin, which can reduce stress and anxiety and improve the feeling of wellbeing.

Many schools are now extending the amount of time pupils spend outside by creating outdoor classrooms. These have become very popular over the last few years and there is now specialist, curriculum-based, outdoor learning equipment available to help schools put these in place.

Promoting positive moods

Wellbeing can be enhanced by improving mood and one of the most effective ways this can be achieved is to encourage students to take part in regular periods of mildly intense physical exercise.

When done over the long term, this improves optimism, making children more enthusiastic and putting them in a more positive mood. The added benefit is that it improves behaviour and, as children can feel very stressed when they get into trouble, the potential for such stressful situations to happen is reduced.

There are various ways schools can encourage pupils to participate in mildly intense physical exercise. One popular initiative is The Daily Mile, which aims to get children running, jogging or walking a mile each day while at school. Equipment such as playground markings is also useful because they provide pupils with the means to take part in a diverse range of aerobic activities, such as football, netball and traditional playground games like hopscotch and skipping.

De-stressing through play

With the Ofsted focus on progress and attainment, it’s no surprise that the pressure put on children to achieve is greater than ever. This has made schools increasingly stressful environments and is likely to be a significant contributor to the rise in child mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, self-harming and eating disorders.

Getting pupils to take part in physical play is an effective way to combat stress. Indeed, the more they participate, the lower their stress levels will become. Independent research has shown that children who are given the opportunity to play on outdoor equipment increase their activity levels by almost 15%. With the wide range of exciting outdoor play equipment available, there’s no end of active fun that pupils can enjoy.

Making happy happen

Ultimately, wellbeing is linked to making children feel good about themselves and there are many ways that this can be achieved in the playground. Take our Trim Trails equipment, for example. These pieces enable you to create exciting obstacle courses, tailor-made for your pupils, that will encourage them to participate in physical activity and leave them feeling truly exhilarated, time and time again.

In addition, there’s the sense of achievement that can come from completing a challenge, such as successfully getting to the end of a traversing wall or managing to complete a circuit of a Free Flow climbing frame. When children set themselves a challenge and then manage to accomplish it, it can leave them feeling uplifted and confident and put them in a very positive mood.

For those children who find the constant business of the classroom and bustle of the playground too much to bear, providing a quiet garden or nature zone can often be the ideal solution. While these are best placed away from the noisy playground, even schools with limited outdoor spaces can use fences, planters and trellises to transform a corner of a playground into a place of calm where children are surrounded by nature and can restore their inner peace.


With schools having to take more responsibility for the mental wellbeing of their students, putting in measures that can reduce stress, improve mood and make children feel better about themselves is crucial. Hopefully, this post will have shown you that the playground is the ideal place to start and that the equipment mentioned here can help you put those measures into place.