How to Make School Playgrounds Usable All Year Round

all year playground

Poor weather can have a very disruptive effect on the school day. When wet or wintery weather puts a stop to breaktimes, the lack of outdoor play means teachers don’t get their breaks, the pupils get irritable and find it hard to settle, and indoor play means classrooms get messy. The quality of learning and classroom behaviour can take a nosedive as a result. While extreme weather means you cannot guarantee keeping a playground open every day, there are things you can do to make the outdoor space more accessible all year round and cut the number of indoor playtimes.

In many cases, schools decide to cancel outdoor play not just because the weather is poor, but because the playground is not designed or equipped to keep children comfortable or safe when things take a turn for the worse. Here we’ll look at some of the things you can do to change this.

The importance of good surfacing

Great playground surfacing is the most important ingredient when creating a space that you want to be usable throughout the year. Schools often close playgrounds because of safety concerns due to slippery surfaces, but with the right surfacing in place, this can be reduced - as can puddles and mud.

While wet playgrounds increase the risk of slipping, installing playground surfacing that has proper drainage and which provides a superior grip on pupils’ footwear can reduce this. Improved drainage means surface water is soon dissipated and that large puddles don’t form. With less water on the surface and a surfacing type that provides a firmer footing, the chances of someone falling over are significantly reduced. Replacing asphalt with resin-bound gravel is one way to achieve this, though, for even greater safety, the ideal solution is wetpour surfacing.

Wetpour surfacing is made from 100% recycled tyres and not only provides the necessary grip to stop children sliding in wet conditions; it also provides cushioning so that if a fall does happen, the risk of injury is much reduced. This makes it ideal for all-year playgrounds and for installing under climbing equipment.

For grassed areas, there are two solutions. The simple and inexpensive way to stop grassed areas from turning into a quagmire and to make them usable in wet and wintery conditions is to install grass matting. This is a rubber mesh embedded into the surface that prevents the grass from being worn away and thus stops muddy patches from forming. Alternatively, you can install artificial grass that has superior drainage and where there is no soil directly underfoot to create any mud. Not only can this all-weather surface be used throughout the year; there’s the added benefit that it doesn’t need regular mowing, reseeding or feeding.

Provide shelter

Another reason schools stop children playing out is to protect them from cold, wind and heavy rain. In most cases, warm, waterproof clothing and suitable footwear are all that is needed for children to be happy and safe playing outside. However, you can make the playground more comfortable by adding shelter.

Replacing mesh fencing with a wooden alternative not only makes the playground look better; it provides shelter from cold winds and helps stop some of the rain. However, if you want to provide even greater protection and comfort, then the ideal solution would be an octagonal shelter. With a roof to keep out the rain, side panels to keep out the wind and seating for up to thirty children, this makes the perfect bolt-hole during inclement weather – and can be used all year round as an outdoor classroom.

There is a range of other solutions too. Play huts are ideal for small groups of children to hide away from the worst of the elements, sail shades protect from both the rain and the sun, and there is a wide selection of covered pergolas and other types of shelter available.

All-weather play equipment

If you are sending children out to play when it's cold and wet, they will still need things to do to keep them engaged. While you might not want them to use climbing equipment that gets slippery or get soaked going down a wet slide, there are still lots of things you can offer. Playground markings for football, netball and other sports enable children to participate in active games, as do fun marking for traditional playground games like hopscotch.

Children also love imaginative and creative play and, as they involve less running around, they are perhaps more suitable and safer activities in poor weather conditions. There is a wide range of imaginative play equipment to choose from, including outdoor musical instruments, mud kitchens, magnetic water walls, chalkboards, magnetic boards and whiteboards, outdoor stages and much more.

Conclusion

With the right surfacing and shelter, and a carefully curated selection of all-weather play equipment, schools can reduce the number of play and lunch breaks lost to poor weather. This eases the pressure on teaching staff and classroom assistants, reduces classroom disruption caused by children getting frustrated at being stuck indoors and stops classrooms from getting messy during indoor breaktimes.

For more information about our surfacing, shelters and playground equipment, visit our Products page.

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How to Make School Playgrounds Safer

Make School Playgrounds Safer

Kids will be kids and accidents happen - while there’s truth in these old sayings, it doesn’t mean a school can’t make a playground safer and minimise the risk of accident or injury. In this post, we look at a number of effective things schools can do to increase outdoor safety.

Reduce bullying by ending boredom

Bullying and the occasional fights that result because of it, is most likely to happen in the playground where supervision is limited and children are free to move around. According to a study commissioned by the Royal Bank of Scotland, there is a direct correlation between incidents of bullying and children having nothing to do during breaktimes. Upgrading a playground to provide greater opportunity for engaging play can have a dramatic impact. The Landscapes for Learning charity reported that schools that made improvements to outdoor facilities, like installing exciting, modern climbing frames, reduced bullying by almost 65% and saw vandalism fall by more than a quarter.

Manage space to minimise accidents

Poor use of space creates the potential for one playground activity to clash with another and cause unnecessary accidents. It's easy for a child chasing after a football, for example, to crash into someone playing with a skipping rope nearby. There are numerous other places where this can happen. The way to minimise the risk of accident and injury is to design the playground so that it has separate activity zones.

Placing physical activities involving climbing and running away from each other prevents those taking part from getting in each other’s way. Additionally, landscaping, fencing and pathways can be used to demarcate the zones and if needed, physically prevent children from getting from one zone to another unless via a safe, designated route that is out of harm’s way. You can even do this to keep older children away from younger ones. Stuck for what you can achieve with playground design? Visit our inspiration page.  

Playground essentials that prevent rulebreaking

While all schools and nurseries have playground rules designed to prevent people from getting hurt, sometimes the playground lacks facilities that encourage children to follow those rules. Steps, walls and windowsills, for example, are comfortable places to sit outdoors, so even if a school bans this on safety grounds, it is no surprise that some children will try to sit there, day after day, if there is nowhere else to go. And if there are no picnic tables or bins, children will eat where they can and leave litter that can be hazardous and attract vermin.

With adequate facilities installed, the children are less inclined to sit and eat where they shouldn’t or leave the place untidy. There is a wide range of playground seating available today, from simple benches and picnic tables to elaborate octagonal shelters, and it’s reasonably priced and long lasting too.

Safe playground surfacing

A lot of playground accidents occur because of issues with worn or unsuitable playground surfaces. Worn asphalt or tarmac can develop potholes or have loose stones that increase the risk of someone tripping up or falling; concrete flags used on many school pathways can easily suffer from treacherous black ice in winter, hard surfaces under climbing frames increase the potential for injury if someone falls; and grassy banks that look idyllic in the summer sunshine become slippery quagmires in the rain.

Thankfully, playground surfacing has advanced significantly in recent times and many of the risks associated with asphalt, tarmac and concrete can be eradicated. Resin-bound gravel is a superior, hard surface alternative as the resin reduces the potential for erosion or potholes. Meanwhile, block paving is less slippery in icy conditions, rubber mulch and wetpour provide cushioning to lessen the risk of injury from falling, and grass matting or artificial grass ensure green areas don’t become a hazardous mud bath.

Keep equipment in tip top condition

If you have playground equipment, keeping it in good condition and making sure it is in proper working order is essential to ensure that it is safe to play on. Outdoor play equipment naturally gets heavy use and, over time, will need some maintenance to keep it up to standard and to prolong its longevity.

To ensure your playground equipment complies with BS EN1176 and remains fit for purpose, you should check it regularly and have an annual playground inspection by a qualified RPII inspector. ESP Play provides an RPII playground inspection service.

Conclusion

Keeping children safe is the first priority for schools and this includes minimising the risk of bullying or injuries in the playground. Hopefully, from reading this article, you’ll have a better understanding of how this can be achieved.

For more information, visit our Products and Services page.

 

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Flat on Inspiration? Why Landscaping is the New Playground Trend

school playground landscaping

Traditionally, playgrounds have always been flat. Indeed, natural undulations were often levelled out to make them flat. Today, however, research tells us that adding mounds, ramps and other raised features brings both educational and play benefits while improving the overall aesthetic of the playground. Here we look at why landscaping has become the new trend in playground design.

New dimensions, new challenges

Landscaped playgrounds are intrinsically more interesting for children to explore and bring a whole new dynamic to play and outdoor learning. Mounds, for example, are features that demand to be climbed and conquered, to roll down, to chase friends around, to stand on top of and view the landscape from a different perspective. In this sense, they are rich in play and development opportunities and provide valuable new challenges for children.

Adding a vertical dimension provides enhanced physical play that, through moving uphill and downhill and manoeuvring around landscaped contours, helps speed up the development of important gross motor skills and coordination, while improving overall strength and fitness.

Kinaestheic skills

Research has shown that the new activities which raised landscaping provides, such as climbing, jumping and rolling, helps with the development of kinaesthesia, the body's ability to sense action, movement and location. Often considered a sixth sense, it is these skills that allow people to move without thinking about the next step – we develop the ability to understand where our bodies are in relation to the things around us and know the next movement.

The ups and downs of problem-solving

As adults, we probably don’t think too much about negotiating a climb, but if you are a child, playground mounds, bridges, ramps and climbing equipment throw up a number of intriguing problems that need to be solved. How many ways can they get to the top and down again? Which are the best ways? How physically demanding will it be? Have they the strength to get up? What’s the safest way to go?

Of course, by giving it a go and playing on these features, they are able to answer those questions, solve those problems and transfer what they have learnt to help them tackle other challenges. At the same time, children are given new chances to assess, manage and take risks.

An island of opportunity

In a sea of busy play, the peak of a playground knoll can also become an island of retreat; one where older children, especially, like to enjoy the vantage point to chat with their friends and watch what others do in the playground.

Risen platforms can also become so much else, providing endless role play and other opportunities: a desert island for pirates and buried treasure, the home of a giant, a strange new planet, the back of a whale. What’s more, when you build bridges to them or put tunnels under them, there is even more potential for creative play.

Defining the space

Raised mounds also have practical uses that can help make the playground safer. They can be used to separate different play zones, particularly when you don’t want the activities in one zone to interfere with what’s going on in another. Even if the raised area is only low, it can stop children from spilling over, direct them to a safer route and prevent things like footballs from going astray. A gentle rise in level is also great for slowing down traffic in busy areas, reducing the risk of children colliding.

A more inviting environment

There is nothing inviting or inspiring about a flat playground surfaced with grey asphalt. Today, there is a wider range of surfacing types to choose from, including rubber mulch, wetpour, resin-bound gravel, block paving and artificial grass. And the spectrum of colours these come in enable schools and nurseries to create vibrant and exciting places to play and learn.

With landscaping, this can now be achieved in 3D, whether that’s the addition of an artificially grassed knoll or a brightly coloured, wetpour mound as part of the overall design.

Conclusion

Landscaping your school playground by introducing raised areas and equipment, enhances the entire topography. It brings new features that add to the aesthetic and make the space more fun to explore. This inspires children to participate in a wider range of play and develop new skills more quickly. Additionally, raised areas can be used to enhance safety and to create quiet zones where children can sit together with interesting views of what’s going on in the rest of the playground.

If you are considering redesigning your school playground, why not take advantage of ESP Play’s free playground design service?

 

 

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How Outdoor Play Helps Overcome Pandemic Disruption

How Outdoor Play Helps Overcome Pandemic Disruption

As schools across the UK look for ways to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on learning and academic progress, there have been calls to lengthen school days, offer summer schools and implement a wide range of catch-up classes. While no doubt there is a lot of intervention being planned, school leaders should also consider the role of the playground in addressing some of the key learning skills that may have regressed over the last 18 months. Here, we look at how this can be addressed through outdoor play.

Cooperative learning

With long periods of isolation and social distancing, the opportunities for children to collaborate will have been few and far between over the last 18 months. With paired and group work being important elements of modern classroom practice, children need these skills to learn more effectively, especially when trying to catch up on missed work and reach the attainment targets that they are capable of.

Helping children relearn their rusty collaboration skills can be achieved in the playground with fun equipment that requires them to work together. A Trim Trails obstacle course, for example, is perfectly designed to challenge small teams of children to complete. Getting from start to finish requires them to work together to find the best route and help each other navigate different obstacles.

Personal effectiveness

Personal effectiveness covers a range of skills that pupils need to manage their workloads and learning, for example, setting themselves targets and goals, segmenting larger projects into manageable chunks and developing resilience and determination.

The playground provides many opportunities for children to hone these skills through play. Free Flow climbing frames, for instance, have a succession of different challenges for children to overcome to complete a circuit. Pupils can set themselves goals about which routes to take, so they can up the challenge over time; they will need to manage their route through the circuit by breaking it down into the individual obstacles, and with occasional failures cropping up, they’ll need resilience to get the job finished. All these skills, of course, are transferable.

Creativity

Sitting at the very apex of Bloom’s Taxonomy, developing a child’s creative skills is key to helping them achieve the highest levels of learning. Facilitating creativity is often best achieved when giving children the freedom to produce something new. The time when children have the most freedom to be creative is during break times when they are outdoors.

Creativity can be encouraged and fostered by providing pupils with the right outdoor resources. These include resources for art and design, whether that’s to get children painting and drawing, sandcastle building or sticking and gluing twigs and leaves to make nature art. Inspiration can also come in the guise of outdoor percussion instruments, which need little in the way of skill but provide endless ways to create unique rhythms and beats, often through working together with a small ensemble.

Communication skills

Person to person communication is vital to successful learning but children have had little opportunity to develop these skills throughout the pandemic. Refreshing and enhancing skills such as turn-taking, listening, questioning, negotiating and presenting, has to be a priority for schools over the next few years. For younger children, especially, the chance to do so comes from the much-loved playground activity of role play, where pupils can invent a multitude of different situations and take on the role of real and imagined characters.

Role play comes naturally to children; however, they prefer to do it in the freedom of the playground where they aren’t being watched by teachers. At the same time, the amount of role play that takes place and the quality of the interactions that children improvise depends to a great extent on the facilities and resources on hand. Providing props and settings that inspire role play and which help children take their imaginations to different places and situations is important to make the most of these opportunities for developing communication skills. With a wide range of inspirational role play playground equipment now available, including shop kiosks, stages, storytelling chairs, play huts, bridges, carriages, trains and boats, there are plenty of ways to create the perfect role play zone in any playground.

Conclusion

Schools are under intense pressure to help pupils recover from the disruption of the pandemic. Of key importance here, is the need to address any regression in the learning skills that are so important to progress and achievement. While interventions can be implemented in the classroom, school leaders should not underestimate the valuable role that outdoor play can help in mitigating the impact of school absence on learning. With the right playground equipment and ample time to play, there is real potential to gain lost ground quickly.

For more information, visit our Products page.

 

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How to Teach STEM in the Playground

Teaching STEM in the playground

When teachers think about teaching STEM subjects, (science, technology, engineering and maths) the playground is perhaps the last place they imagine delivering those lessons. However, STEM is about integrating those subjects and thinking out of the box, so perhaps it's time to reconsider the outdoor space as somewhere where children can get value from those subjects. Here are some of the reasons to teach STEM in the playground and the equipment you can use to help you.

STEM in the outdoor space

The great thing about being outdoors is that it provides far more space to conduct experiments and, in some cases, it’s by far the safest place to do them. If you really want to test how high those air propelled rockets your class has designed are going to reach, a room with an 8-feet high ceiling and shed loads of expensive equipment all around isn’t ideal. Indeed, any experiment that involves testing propulsion is best conducted where there is space to do so and where children can watch from a safe distance.

It's not just propulsion, either; there are occasions where STEM projects will require building big things, like towers or bridges that there simply isn’t room for inside the classroom. The playground, on the other hand, is perfect, especially if the teacher has resources like outdoor, standalone whiteboards, etc., to write instructions on and for children to note down the results of their experiments.

Make the most of nature

If you want to teach your pupils about natural sciences, then it's best to study things outdoors in their natural environment instead of bringing them inside. If pupils are studying how plants grow, their experiments aren’t going to be accurate if they are studying plants left on the windowsill in a classroom. Instead, provide them with a playground growing tree with enough room for everybody’s plants to grow in natural conditions, such as sunlight, heat, wind and rain. For more detailed analysis, why not use a discovery planter so they can see the formation of the roots as well as the upper part of the plant, and examine things like soil, water penetration and the creatures that live in the soil and affect the microenvironment.

You can also install bird feeders and bug houses, etc., for close examination of the fauna that lives in the local environment and to monitor their numbers and behaviour. It's an opportunity for real science that can complement the theoretical work going on in the classroom.

It’s not just biology that can be studied either. With a weather station, for example, pupils can monitor things like precipitation, air pressure, temperature, wind direction, etc. and study how weather changes over time and relate this to seasonal changes or the impact of global warming.

With a range of curriculum-focused, scientific, wall or post-mounted, switchable work boards to choose from, students are able, while in the playground, to measure and track changes, write down their discoveries and make connections between them.

Give maths a new dimension

While maths has enabled theoretical physicists to calculate numerous dimensions, school maths can be a rather one-dimensional subject. For many children, the biggest challenge is not the difficulty of the work but the continual book and pen exercises. Getting outside into the playground can help them break the cycle of doing things in a book and give them a new and more engaging way to explore the subject. What’s more, you can use the outside world to contextualise the exercises being done, asking them to calculate real-life things so that they have genuine meaning.

There is also a whole range of maths resources that can be installed in the playground to help. These include tessellation and coordinates boards, tangram tables, symmetry boards and soma cubes. If you want to get even more adventurous, there are playground dominoes games and even a traversing wall that is designed for following sequences or calculations.

When it comes to design and technology, there are also outdoor classroom work boards for weaving and isometric drawing.

Conclusion

In a world where science and technology are so important, it is vital to inspire young minds to develop an interest in STEM subjects. Working outdoors frees up the mind to new ideas and provides a whole lot more for students to explore and experiment on. Now, with lots of new STEM-based outdoor curriculum equipment available to schools, teaching STEM has never been easier.

For more information about our outdoor STEM products, visit our Outdoor Curriculum page.

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