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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5 Outdoor Imaginative Play Ideas For EYFS

EYFS Imaginative play equipment

The ability of imaginative play to support children’s cognitive development makes it an essential ingredient of EYFS. It enables children to explore, discover and make connections and helps them develop critical language and thinking skills. The great news for EYFS teachers is that there are many great ways to introduce imaginative play into the playground. Here we’ll look at five of the best.

The playground is the perfect environment for imaginative play. Outdoors, children are allowed to run, climb, make noise, get messy, put their hands on things and get stuck in. And with more space and fewer restrictions, they are freer to unleash their imaginations and benefit more from their play. This is especially true when there is a variety of imaginative play options for them to choose from. Hopefully, the ones we mention below will give you an idea of how to create a more imaginative environment for your EYFS pupils.

1. A world of pretend

Young children love roleplay and pretend play and they are naturally inclined to get involved. Here, they’ll use their imaginations to invent new worlds, play different characters and act out endless scenarios, all of which help them to understand the world they live in. They’ll explore situations, feelings and relationships, discover new ways to interact, finding out more about themselves as they do so.

The best way to encourage roleplay and pretend play is to provide a range of opportunities for children to imagine being someone, something or somewhere else. The easiest way is to provide improvisation stimuli, like props and costumes. However, you can take this to a completely new level by introducing imaginative play products like pirate ships, wigwams, bridges, tunnels, play huts and trains. Outdoor play equipment of this kind can transport children’s imaginations to a world of new experiences while speeding up their cognitive development.

2. Action adventure

While there is purpose-built apparatus to stimulate pretend play, feedback from our customers has shown that a lot of our active play equipment is also used for imaginative play. As a result, we’ve incorporated some imaginative elements into our active play equipment. Our Tangled, rope playing equipment, for example, is inspired by giant spiders and spiders’ webs, our castle play towers are inspired by medieval castles and our Wild Wood collection has seen new additions that incorporate tree and leaf designs and wobbly seats.

3. Glorious mud

Okay, real mud might be a bit too messy for EYFS environments, but messy play, in general, is excellent for developing imaginations. It’s fun, it's tangible, it's hands-on and it's great for developing sensory perception, problem-solving and decision-making skills. From traditional activities like sandpits and mud kitchens to more modern innovations, like magnetic water walls and splash trays, there are opportunities to learn about physical properties, make decisions about how to make things and solve problems when those sandcastles don’t turn out just right.

4. Sound and music

Imaginative play that involves sound and music is great for developing sensory skills, helping children to differentiate different sounds and patterns. There are lots of ways you can introduce sound making into the playground: tins and plastic containers partially filled with rice or dried peas, bendy tubes that whistle when you whirl them, gongs, cymbals and bells, speaking cones made from rolled-up sheets of paper and so forth.

Alternatively, you can install outdoor musical instruments specially designed for heavy use in EYFS playgrounds. Purpose-built to inspire the imaginations of young ones, they include drainpipe drums and drum tables, xylophones, washboards and chimes. Together, they provide a range of different percussion instruments which, as they don’t need specific musical skills to play, enable children to explore sound and music independently, with friends or in teacher-led activities.

5. Fantasy and fiction

Nothing opens up young imaginations more than listening to a good story – whether it's read to them by a teacher or told to them by a classmate. It takes their minds to places they have never previously imagined and in doing so, expands their own imaginations and helps them create stories of their own.

How do you create the perfect storytelling environment? At ESP, we’ve come up with a solution that we think is the perfect fantasy setting for listening to fiction: a circle of toadstool designed chairs with a large, wooden fairy tale inspired storytelling chair taking centre stage. Gathering around to listen will be like stepping into a magic world. And, of course, anyone can take that seat and tell their wonderful stories.

Conclusion

EYFS children learn through play and imaginative play is one of the best ways to develop those all-important cognitive skills. To facilitate this effectively, schools and nurseries need to provide resources and equipment that encourage children to take part and inspire them to fire up their imaginations. Hopefully, the suggestions we have made here will give you ideas for your own playground.

For more information and to see our range of products, visit our Imaginative Play 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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Sprucing Up a School Playground on a Budget

Is your school playground in need of sprucing up but you lack the budget for a complete overhaul? It’s a common problem and one we regularly help our customers with. With years of playground design and installation experience behind us, here are our top tips for revitalising a tired school playground.

1. Establish play zones

If your current space is uncoordinated, it can make it difficult for children to get the most from it, especially if those taking part in various activities find themselves getting in the way of others. If they are always getting interrupted, it can stop them joining in their favourite pastimes. Haphazard playground layouts can also increase the risk of accidents or injury.

The way around this is to divide up your playground into discrete activity zones. These help keep activities separate and give you better control over playground safety. Zones can be separated in a number of ways, such as installing a row of planted shrubs or trellises, picket fencing or the laying of a pathway. By keeping the separators low and enabling them to be seen through, the playground can remain an open and inviting area, but one where every activity has its home. Occasionally, you might need to move a piece of equipment, but this is not always essential.

For more information on zones, read our article How to Design an EYFS Playground.

2. Install traditional playground markings

Inexpensive and simple to install, playground markings are an ideal problem solver for offering children more things to do in the playground. The wide variety of markings now available mean you can offer endless hours of fun to children. There are markings for traditional games, like hopscotch, sports, like football and basketball, learning games, like footwork vowels, and even roadways, complete with roundabouts, zebra crossings and parking bays.

Highly colourful and long-lasting, they are a great way to create more enjoyable outdoor experiences and inspire more children to take part in physical activity.

3. Add variety to your playground equipment

Watch any child in the playground and you’ll notice that they like a variety of things to do. They may have their favourite activities and pieces of equipment, but there will always be times when they have had enough of these. If your playground update is going to be limited, then it is a good idea to bring in something completely new that the children have never had access to before. So, if you were thinking of replacing your old play tower with a new one, rather than changing like for like, keep the old play tower if it is still used and in a safe condition and invest in something that expands the opportunities on offer.

There are endless things to choose from: climbing frames, mud kitchens, sandpits, magnetic water walls, basketball nets, outdoor instruments, play boats, you name it. When choosing, it is a good idea, once again, to think of zones. Could you create a messy play area, a creativity zone, a climbing zone, an obstacle course, a sensory area? What do the children want and need? What would make a difference?

4. Don’t’ forget socialising and relaxation

While children like to take part in activities, the older they get, the more time they will want to spend relaxing after the challenges of the classroom and chatting with their friends. This is one need that many playgrounds are poorly equipped to offer, but it doesn’t take much to turn it around.

For socialising, children just need somewhere comfortable to sit in small groups. This can easily be done by putting some picnic tables and benches in a sunny spot. If you want to add a bit of protection from the elements, you could install an octagonal shelter, pergola or even a play hut.

When it comes to relaxing, this is best achieved by providing a less busy area with a touch of nature. If you have a natural area of greenery, this is the perfect location; however, if you haven’t, you can section off a quiet corner of the playground with trellises, put some seating on the inside and use artificial grass and planters to create that calming feeling that children sometimes crave in the hectic playground. Indeed, for stressed pupils or those with anxiety and other needs, such areas can offer important respite during the school day.

5. Ask children’s opinions

If you intend to make improvements to your playground, its always wise to consult the major stakeholders, even if they are very young. Getting feedback will give you a better understanding of what the children want for their outdoor space and ensure that the improvements you make are in line with their wishes.

One of the best ways to do this is with a survey which looks at the equipment you have already got and at proposed additions. This way, you can find out what they like and don’t like in the current playground and what they would like to see in the future.

Conclusion

It can be difficult sprucing up a tired playground when you don’t have the budget for a major revamp. Careful consideration of how to use the space, bringing in variety rather than replacing old equipment, making use of affordable playground markings and creating a place for socialising and relaxation can all help. However, don’t forget to ask the children what they would like.

For more ideas, visit our Products page.

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Top of the Class: Standout Playground Equipment for Schools

While modern playground design centres around the creation of different zones that offer variety and provide inclusivity, it’s common practice to include at least one item of standout equipment. Acting at the centrepiece of the design, it is usually something that immediately draws the eye and has a magnetic effect on the pupils. Today, there are some truly phenomenal pieces of playground equipment available for schools and in this post, we’ll showcase the very best of our collection.

Freeflow Conquest

Kids of all ages love to pit their wits against the challenge of a climbing frame but the Freeflow Conquest takes it to the next level. Taking up almost 14 x 12 metres of space, it is an installation with capacity for lots of children and which offers a huge variety of different physical challenges and an even wider range of routes in which to tackle them.

Designed for children aged 5 to 16, it comprises 9 interconnecting platforms that children need to navigate through. Getting from A to B may require them to climb traversing walls, swinging tyre bridges, log bridges, rope bridges, stepping logs and more. Challenges range in difficulty to suit children of differing ages and ability.

The Conquest is just one of a range of Freeflow products, each available in different sizes and with different challenges.

Trim Trails Obstacle Course

The Trim Trails range is a selection of individual, wooden climbing challenge pieces. What makes this standout equipment is that you can pick and choose specific pieces to create an obstacle course that is perfect for the needs of your pupils and which fits the size and shape of your playground.

There are almost 60 different challenges you can choose from to create your own Trim Trails, these include jungle bars, wobbly planks and bridges, tyre bridges and steppers, rope traverses, twisty rope challenges, stepping logs, dip bars, leapfrog posts and more. What’s more, there are 4 ranges for different age groups, so that pupils from early years to secondary are catered for with appropriate challenge.

The Tangled Cobweb

Looking like a giant spider rising out of its web, this piece of apparatus is certainly eye-catching and will provide a dramatic focal point for any playground design. The Tangled Cobweb offers a series of vertical, horizontal and inclined climbing and traversing challenges on both ropes and logs. There is a multitude of different routes that can be taken to get from A to B, meaning children can explore almost unlimited pathways and have endless fun.

The Tangled range, as the name suggests, offers pupils highly exciting rope challenges which have to be mastered to navigate across the equipment. Each piece in the Tangled range is uniquely exciting and no two pieces are the same.

The Windsor Play Castle

Why have a play tower when you can have a play castle? As the name implies, the Windsor Play Castle is the grandest and most magnificent of them all. Taking up almost 10 square metres of space, it is a mini theme park for children, with all the trimmings of a medieval castle.

The castle features a centrepiece tower and slide with connected ramparts on either side creating a central courtyard. To get from A to B, children face a wide variety of fun challenges and obstacles, including traversing ramps and walls, climb through tunnels, inclined wobbly bridges, rigging ramps, rope bridges and more.

Truly capturing a child’s imagination, this piece of apparatus is great for both physical activity and inspiring fantastic roleplay adventures. Suitable for children aged 5 to 11.

The AllGo+ Gym

Put the fun back into fitness and provide equipment that can be used for both the curriculum and personal training by pupils. The AllGo+ Gym offers a complete suite of fitness equipment, professionally laid out on its own attractive octagonal surfacing.

Designed for secondary school pupils and requiring only the lifting of body weight, it provides pupils with safe accessibility to gym equipment that can also be used in PE lessons or sports training. The gym includes swinging monkey bars, multi-height circle steps, pull-up bars, different height press-up bars, flat and inclined sit-up benches, step-ups, leg raisers and markings for footwork balance and agility. Each piece is clearly labelled with instructions about how to use it correctly and safely. There is also a separate Health and Safety information post that can be placed at the entrance to the gym. Suitable for pupils over 1.4m tall.

Conclusion

The equipment shown here includes some of our standout and most popular products for school playgrounds. They are, however, just the tip of the iceberg, we have many more very special items that are ideal for a wide range of purposes. From messy play areas, nature equipment, outdoor curriculum resources and musical instruments to playground markings, surfacing, MUGAs, shelters and furniture. Whatever you need for your playground, we can supply it, install it and design the playground your pupils deserve.

For more information, visit our homepage.

 

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