Outdoor PE Solutions for Small Playgrounds

PE solutions for small playgrounds

For many schools, especially primaries with small playgrounds, delivering a broad and balanced outdoor PE curriculum can be a big challenge. Here we look at some of the practical solutions available today that can help you offer a greater choice of sports and training and which are ideal for schools with limited outdoor space.

Reliable foundations

If you have a smaller outdoor space, it is likely that it will need to be used for both PE and general outdoor play. For this reason, you’ll need surfacing that is ideal for many different types of activity, is hardwearing and can be used in all weathers.

There are two modern surfacing solutions that are ideal for this: resin bound gravel and wetpour surfacing. Replacing tarmac and asphalt as the hard surface of choice, resin bound gravel offers improved drainage for all year use and a firmer footing for reduced risk and superior sports performance.

Wetpour surfacing, which is made from recycled rubber, offers a great grip on footwear, too. It is also softer and provides cushioning, making it great for outdoor sports as it reduces the chances of injury should pupils take a tumble during a PE activity. For the same reasons, it’s equally good for general outdoor play, especially around climbing equipment.

For those with additional space, a third alternative is artificial grass. Usable all year round, even when normal grass is too muddy, is easily maintained, without the need for mowing or reseeding, ensuring that whatever the weather, outdoor PE lessons can go ahead.

Pitch, court & trainer markings

The PE curriculum entitles pupils to participate in a broad range of sports, however, what a school can offer is often limited to the types of pitches, courts and equipment they have. Playground markings, which work with resin bound gravel, wetpour and older types of hard surfaces, are an inexpensive way of providing a wide variety of outdoor pitches and courts, for sports such as football, netball, basketball, rounders, tennis and cricket. For those schools short of outdoor space, it is even possible to create a multi-sports court that provides the markings for three different sports on the same pitch, each in different colours.

Additionally, there are also a wide variety of training markings available, designed to help pupils improve skills, including balance, endurance, coordination, footwork, hurdles and ball skills.

Add the right sports equipment

Of course, surfacing and markings won’t provide all the resources you need for outdoor PE. So, it is important to consider the additional equipment that can embellish these and expand your provision. The latest sports equipment lets you add high-quality, space saving football and hockey goals and basketball and netball hoops to your pitch markings. For those with space shortages, there are even multi-sports versions that combine goals and hoops into a single piece of equipment that can be kept outdoors for use in football, hockey, netball and basketball – you can even let children make use of these during playtimes.

As for training, there is also equipment like ball walls for football, tennis and cricket, and for accuracy training, there are ball catches and wall targets.

Create an outdoor gym

Aside from teaching pupils about different sports, another key purpose of PE is to give pupils the opportunity to stay fit and healthy. For those with limited indoor space, it is now possible to create an outdoor gym in the playground.

What’s great about the AllGo+ Gym is that it relies only on body weight, so there are no heavy weights that can cause injury. This makes it ideal for use in schools where it can help with physical fitness sessions, like circuit training. Equipment included in the AllGo+ Gym includes press up bars, monkey bars, circle steps, flat and inclined sit-up benches, leg raisers, step-up stations and fast feet floor markings. Additionally, each piece comes with its own instruction post and health and safety advice.


If you are stuck for space to deliver your outdoor PE, there are now solutions there to help you. From establishing a safe surface that can be used in all weathers to space-saving multi-sports markings, built-in outdoor goals, nets and training equipment and even outdoor, body weight only gyms, there’s everything you need to enhance and expand your provision and to offer pupils a wider range of activities to participate in during their free time.

If you are looking to update your outdoor PE provision, take a look at our wide selection of surfacing, sports markings, gym and sports equipment.


Why Great Design Matters for Small School Playgrounds

small school playground design

Everywhere you look these days, school playgrounds seem to be getting kitted out with the latest, must-have outdoor equipment. The one thing many of these modern playgrounds have in common is that they are of a decent size. For schools with smaller playgrounds, it can be hard to find the right solution when there is so little space available. However, with the right design team behind you, the possibilities are endless. Here we discuss why great design matters for small school playgrounds.

Dilemmas and challenges

Schools with small playgrounds are often faced with the dilemma that, by installing playground equipment, they make available space even smaller. It seems like there is a choice between giving children things to do and space to run around. A good playground, however, should aim to do both. The challenge is in finding a way to achieve this – and this is where having the help of a specialist school playground design team, like ESP Play, can be invaluable.

The importance of zones

No matter how big or small your outdoor space, the modern approach to designing playgrounds involves the creation of zones. This means creating discrete areas for different types of activities. Separating activities in this way is essential for making the playground safer, more inclusive and providing a wider range of play opportunities.

A smaller playground might not be able to have as many zones as a larger one, or, if it does, the zones might have less or smaller equipment. However, by using them, you can create areas for different activities, such as active play, creative play, sensory play and even quiet areas for sitting and chatting. A good designer will make sure that the layout of the playground is such that children taking part in one activity won’t be disrupted or put at risk by those taking part in another and that there is adequate access to and from each zone. In this way, no one is excluded from taking part and staff will have fewer issues to deal with as the design limits the potential for hazards.

Clever space-saving design

ESP Play’s experienced playground designers have created countless designs for small playgrounds up and down the country and understand not just the issues but the unseen opportunities that schools miss.

One frequently missed opportunity is not taking advantage of your school and playground walls. For playgrounds with limited space, these offer incredible potential, enabling the school to add a wide range of fun and educational equipment that doesn’t take up precious space elsewhere. What’s great is that even if you don’t currently have any walls, it’s relatively simple to install a fence that’s strong enough to serve the same purpose.  School walls can be used to install blackboards and whiteboards, traversing walls, magnetic water walls, ball targets and basketball hoops. They can also be used to create nature zones in your playground through the use of planters and trellises, together with wall-attached bug houses, bird feeders and butterfly houses. All these things, and more, can be put around the edges of your playground without taking up precious space in the centre.

Your choice of zones

When it comes to making use of the space, it’s up to you which zones to create and what features you might want them to have. For example, you could create a messy play area next to a wall that features a magnetic water wall as well as a small sandpit and a mud kitchen. The wall could also incorporate hangers on which you could keep aprons to keep the children dry and free of sand.

Small playgrounds don’t need to lack exciting climbing equipment either. Although you might be hard pushed to fit in a large climbing frame, smaller versions are available that can still offer plenty of fun-filled thrills for your pupils, whether that’s play towers for younger children or the Free Flow Expedition package. If you’re really stuck for space, you can choose individual pieces from our Trim Trails equipment, including jungle bars, wobbly bridges, balance beams, log stairs and many more.

There’s also a lot of equipment for imaginative play zones, where children can indulge in creative activities and role play. From mini-stages and shop kiosks to boats, carriages and trains, these pieces offer great fun without taking up too much space.

As for reserving a space for running around, that’s possible too – and can best be achieved with the addition of a few playground markings to provide the sports pitches and traditional playground games markings to inspire participation and keep the activities within designated areas.


As you can see, having a small school playground doesn’t mean your pupils can’t benefit from the great equipment you see being installed in other schools. However, it does mean you’ll need to be a little cleverer when it comes to getting the design right and that you choose the right pieces to match the space you have available.

For more information about our Free Playground Design Service, visit our Playground Design page.


School Playground Equipment That Kids Find Most Exciting

exciting playground equipment

The whole point of a school playground is to give children opportunities to play. However, without the right equipment, the result is often boredom and this can affect pupil behaviour both in the yard and back in the classroom. To prevent this, playgrounds need to offer children excitement, challenge and fun. To help, we’ve put together some of the equipment that we find children get most excited about.

Free-Flow Climbing Frames

Once only found in public parks, in recent years climbing frames have become highly popular features of modern school playgrounds. Children of all ages love to play on them, both on their own and with their friends.

Our Free-Flow Climbing Frames bring excitement by providing circular courses with no defined start or end. Children have to decide upon their own route and challenge themselves to see whether they can get around the entire apparatus successfully. Achieving this may take a lot of practice, requiring them to master a number of different challenges, depending on the Free-Flow model you choose. These can include jungle bars, tight ropes, rope bridges and rope traverses, traversing walls and tyre bridges.

Trim Trails

Offering a different kind of obstacle course, but equally as thrilling and exciting, is our Trim Trails range. The great thing about Trim Trails is that you select different pieces from our collection to design a course that is the right fit for your playground and which satisfies the needs and likes of your pupils.

Using sturdy wooden equipment, the Trim Trails provide a range of challenges that deliver real excitement while developing pupils’ problem solving, stamina and resilience. Children can also set themselves and each other challenges about how they tackle the course. And with nearly sixty different challenges available, including interchangeable equipment, you can keep the excitement going.

Individual pieces include jungle bars, wobbly planks and bridges, tyre bridges and steppers, rope traverses, twisty rope challenges, stepping logs, dip bars, leapfrog posts and more. To ensure that the pieces are appropriate for children of different ages, we have put them into four different categories depending on their difficulty, size and height.

Messy Play

The idea of playing with mud, sand and water is enough to bring a smile to any child’s face and for younger children, messy play can be one of the most exciting parts of the school day. Of course, in today’s more sanitised world, ‘mud’ is a mix of sand and water rather than soil and water, which keeps kids, their clothing and the classrooms a whole lot cleaner.

The best way to bring messy play to a school playground is to keep it all together in a specially created ‘messy play zone.’ This lets children easily move from piece to piece, stops any sand and water from getting elsewhere and helps prevent children busy doing other things from getting in the way.

There is a range of equipment you can use to create a messy play zone, including mud kitchens, magnetic water walls, sandpits and sandboxes, creation stations and the very popular water chutes where children can race balls down cascading tracks.

Sports Pitches

Children have played sports during playtimes for as long as there have been playgrounds and there’s no bigger thrill than scoring a goal, getting a rounder, winning a game or bowling out the opposition. Today, of course, using a couple of jumpers for a goal is not the expectation, nor is it the safest approach. The ideal way to bring the excitement of sport to a playground is to provide the necessary sports markings and their accompanying goals, nets and stumps, etc.

These are now available for a variety of sports, including soccer, basketball, tennis, netball, rounders and cricket. Quickly installed and highly affordable, schools with limited space can even have multi-sports pitches so that different types of sports can be played in a single area.

Of course, with proper markings, the pitches help ensure the games stay within a well-defined area, away from other activities. The markings can also be used to deliver PE lessons and help children learn about the layout of pitches and rules of the sports they are playing.


After applying themselves to the rigours of the curriculum, children deserve a place where they can let off steam and have some real fun. A good playground will provide this and a key element of a modern playground is to offer activities that are exciting and challenging. While we have countless other exciting products your school may be interested in, over our many years of installing school playground equipment, those mentioned above are constantly at the top of pupils’ wish lists.

For more information, about these and other products, visit our Products page.


Funding Sources For School Playground Improvements

funding for school playgrounds

With education budgets under increasing pressure, many school business managers are looking for external funding to help with their new school playground projects. As one of the UK’s leading school playground equipment suppliers and installation companies, ESP Play has helped countless schools find financial assistance over the years and here, we have put together some of the funds that might be appropriate for your project.

National Lottery Community Fund

If your new playground provides opportunities that promote education, health or the environment, and which benefit your local community, then you might be eligible for an award of up to £10,000 from the National Lottery’s Community Fund.

Garfield Weston Foundation

The Garfield Weston Foundation is a UK fund that offers grants to charities and other good causes that support, among other things, youth, health and education. If your playground project can improve the life chances of young people through better education and health or by inspiring your pupils to reach their potential, you may be eligible to apply.

Ernest Cook Trust

The Ernest Cook Trust was set up by philanthropist grandson of the travel agent, Thomas Cook, to create experiences that help children and young people, especially those who are disadvantaged, to feel captivated and intrigued by nature and to instil a lifelong appreciation and respect for the countryside. This grant may be suitable for school playground projects that seek to create a nature zone or a forest school, especially in urban areas where children have limited access to natural environments or where disadvantage prevents them from visiting the countryside. Grants of up to £10,000 are available.

Biffa Award

Biffa Waste Services runs the Biffa Award scheme to fund community projects located near landfill sites. Though schools might be eligible to apply for new play equipment and landscaping works for their playgrounds, the project will usually need to benefit the wider community and show evidence of their involvement and consultation.

The Football Foundation

Funded by The Football Association, the Premier League and the UK Government, the Football Foundation provides grants of up to £1 million to revitalise the sport at the grassroots level. This scheme is ideal for schools developing all-weather football pitches and who seek to encourage more young people to take part in football and to give them better opportunities to develop their skills. With the aim of providing ‘better games for more players,’ those who wish to make their pitches available for the wider community may have a better chance of success.

Co-op Local Community Fund

Funded by the Co-op Group, the Local Community Fund awards grants to three projects in each community every 12 months. The project must be for and be of benefit to the local community. The two eligibility criteria that apply to schools are for playground projects that help improve people’s mental wellbeing or those which offer young people the opportunity to develop new skills and make a difference in their community. Projects must comply with the Co-op’s values.

Other ways to raise funds

Many schools also raise a great deal of their funding through in-house initiatives, often with the assistance of the parent-teacher association (PTA). Over the many years ESP Play has been providing services to schools, we have seen a wide range of fundraising ideas put into action. The most successful are usually those that have the support of the most people as these drive wider participation and raise more money as a result.

Some of the most popular fundraising activities have been sponsored events, pupil discos, quiz evenings, talent shows, Easter egg and treasure hunts, summer fêtes, Christmas fairs, raffles, bric-a-brac sales, bun and cake sales, non-uniform days, car washing, splash the teacher events and auctions – especially when local businesses are willing to donate the items. Additionally, you may also find that some local businesses will be willing to offer small financial donations, especially if rewarded with a little bit of publicity.

Need help with your playground funding?

Our years of experience mean our team understand the funding process that schools need to go through to finance their new playgrounds. We can help you find more potential sources of funding and give you advice about writing bids for grants. We will even provide you with a free funding guide and a playground design and quotation based on your project to help support your bid.

For more information about finding, please visit our Funding page.


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.


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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