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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5 Things To Do With School Playgrounds in Summer Holidays

Children's wellbeing

With only a few weeks left of the school year, minds will be focussed on the much-needed holiday and in making plans for September. The summer break, however, is the ideal time to work on the school playground. With no children around for weeks on end, there is plenty of opportunity to carry out essential work and make improvements. You can also put your playground to good use during summer, too. Here, we’ll look at some of the options.

1. Inspect playground equipment

School playgrounds should have an annual RPII inspection to ensure that all their playground equipment and surfacing are safe to use and fit for purpose. The best time to get this done is at the beginning of the summer holidays; this way, if any remedial work is necessary, you have the time to get it completed before the children arrive back in school.

Annual inspections not only ensure that equipment is safe; they also extend equipment and surfacing lifespans. A minor repair now can prevent more extensive and potentially costly repair or replacement bills further down the line.

ESP Play Inspection Services are carried out by a fully qualified RPII inspector who will examine your playground to ensure it complies with BS EN 1176. We provide a detailed report about the condition of your playground and each piece of equipment and, where necessary, we will make recommendations about maintenance to ensure safety and to comply with standards.

2. Replace tired equipment

No matter how well you look after your surfacing and equipment, heavy use and weathering mean eventually they will need replacing. At the same time, apparatus that begins to look old and tired can lose its appeal to children and seldom get used anymore.

If you have such equipment in your playground, the summer break is the perfect time to get it replaced so that your new pieces are ready for your pupils as they return in September. What better way to kick off the academic year than to give the kids something new and exciting to play on? And with fantastic playground equipment being added to our collection all the time, ESP Play has everything you need.

3. Look after nature areas

While nature can usually take care of itself over the summer holidays, anything in planters will need regular watering, especially if there are long periods without rain -  otherwise, those expensive plants might die off.

Similarly, lawns, sports fields and grassed playing areas might need an occasional sprinkling and a lawn feed to keep the grass green and lush. Before children return, grassed sports and playing areas will also need mowing to ensure that surfaces are suitable for play and that any potentially harmful litter (e.g., glass) hidden in the long grass can be spotted and removed.

If the maintenance of grassed play areas is becoming a burden, it is always possible to replace these with artificial grass – an alternative that stays green, never needs mowing and which looks just as good as the real thing.

4. Repair or replace surfacing

After the frosts of winter and the heavy spring rain, older playground surfacing can need repair or in the worst cases, replacing altogether. Repairing or replacing a playground surface is best done when the weather is fine and, as it means putting it temporarily out of action, when no one is going to be using it for a while. The summer holidays make this the ideal time.

Repairing potholes, fraying edges, loose stones and raised slabs quickly prevents more extensive deterioration later on – something caused by both heavy use and weathering. Failure to tackle these can also make your playground hazardous for use and lead to injury.

If your surfaces need replacing, it might be the right time to consider newer types of surfacing. Resin-bound gravel is a superior alternative to asphalt or tarmac, being long-lasting, self-draining, low-maintenance and available in different colours. Wetpour surfacing, meanwhile, has become highly popular in EYFS and primary playgrounds because its fall-cushioning properties help reduce bumps, bruises and broken bones.

5. Open your playground during the holidays

Children have had little opportunity for outdoor play during the pandemic and this has had an impact on their mental health. Away from their friends for another six weeks during summer, access to a playground could play a vital role in improving their wellbeing. Unfortunately, at the time they need it most, many public playgrounds are being closed because local councils don’t have the finances to maintain them.

While it’s possibly not feasible to open playgrounds to the public in general, there are many local childcare providers, summer activity clubs, etc., that would jump at the chance to use them at certain times of the day or week. This way, the playground would be used by professionals who could ensure school property was treated respectfully and that the small numbers of children using the equipment would be supervised. It may even be a way to earn a little extra cash for the school.

Conclusion

With six weeks of downtime, the summer holidays offer schools the potential to inspect, maintain, repair and even update their playgrounds. At the same time, with children needing a safe and well-equipped place for outdoor play, there is the opportunity to help your pupils and children from the wider local community make the most of the summer break.

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

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Children’s Wellbeing: Playground Therapy For Schoolkids

Children's wellbeing

Even before the pandemic, one in ten pupils suffered from a mental health disorder. After 18 months of lockdowns, social distancing and bubble isolations, improving children’s wellbeing has never been so important. However, with children’s mental health services stretched to the limit, schools have little option but to take their own initiatives to help their pupils. Luckily, one of the most important resources at their disposal is right on the doorstep – the school playground. Here, we explain how it can play a vital role in improving wellbeing.

Boosting happy hormones

Children’s feelings of happiness and wellbeing are influenced by the hormone serotonin. For serotonin to be produced in the brain, it needs to be activated by vitamin D. When children get natural daylight on their skin, their bodies produce vitamin D and this, in turn, increases serotonin production.

One of the issues for people in northerly countries, like the UK, is that apart from the summer months, we don’t get access to enough sunlight and so can suffer from vitamin D deficiency. By giving pupils more time in the playground, we can help reduce any deficit and address its effect on wellbeing.

Improve mood with activity

Physical activity has been proven to boost wellbeing and, ideally, children should get an hour of activity every day. This should include, according to the Mental Health Foundation, half an hour of low-intensity, aerobic exercise, four or five times a week – every week. The effects of this are potentially very beneficial. It would help children stay alert, improve behaviour, reduce stress and even make them more enthusiastic to learn. It can also help prevent minor wellbeing issues from developing into long-term mental health conditions.

Schools can help increase physical activity by installing playground equipment that encourages children to participate in aerobic play. Playground markings are affordable and easily installable solutions that do precisely this. By providing pitches and courts for games like football and netball, and markings for a wide range of physical games, like hopscotch, children are more inclined to take part. Research has shown that when outdoor play equipment is introduced into a playground, children’s activity increases by almost 15%.

Take active learning outdoors

Active learning has become very popular over the last decade because it has been shown to increase engagement in lessons and lead to greater attainment. However, it has other benefits too. One of these is to reduce stress. The pressure put on children to succeed has made school increasingly stressful, something that increases even more as they get older. Long-term exposure to stress can have extremely negative effects on health, increasing blood sugar and fat levels, raising blood pressure and making children more susceptible to depression and anxiety.

Active learning, especially when done in an outdoor environment, can help reduce stress. Away from the confines of the classroom and all its connotations, children are both physically and mentally freer. With fresh air, sunshine and more space, they relax more and cope better with the demands of learning.

Schools can make an impact here by creating an outdoor classroom. Indeed, with so much outdoor curriculum equipment available today, this is far easier to achieve in all subject areas.

Tackle depression and anxiety

Children diagnosed with depression and anxiety can benefit greatly from physical activity; indeed, it can be a prescribed element of their treatment. What’s more, it can also prevent these disorders from developing in others.

There are now some excellent pieces of playground equipment designed to be both great fun and physically engaging. These include Trim Trails obstacle courses and Free Flow climbing frames which both present children with exciting physical challenges. When it comes to the PE curriculum, there’s also the outdoor Allgo Gym which provides a range of exercises all using body weight.

Conclusion

The pandemic has had a significant effect on the mental health of our children and if we are to prevent this from becoming a long-term problem, we need to take urgent action to improve their wellbeing. Schools have a lot of potential to make a difference and one way to achieve this is to make play the best therapy.

For more details about our playground equipment, visit our Products page.

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Playground Shade – 7 Tips To Keep Kids Safe in the Sun

keepig children safe in the sun

Summer is here, the temperature is rising and everyone wants to get out into the playground. While this is great for our wellbeing and vitamin D levels, there are times when the heat can be overbearing and the UV levels too high for young skin. So, aside from sunscreen and hats, how do we ensure the kids can get outside, stay cool and get some shade? Here are some tips to help.

1. Clever playground design

How hot a playground becomes depends upon where the light comes from at the warmest parts of the day. Clever playground design can take this into consideration, using existing buildings, trees and hedges to create play zones that provide shelter from the brightest sun. Zones can also be placed away from sun traps where a lack of air flow prevents a cooling breeze from moderating the temperature. This is particularly important for areas where physical activities take place, such as playing on climbing frames or taking part in team games.

2. Change surfacing colour

Traditional playground surfacing, like asphalt, tends to be black, a colour that rather than reflecting light, absorbs it. Studies in the US have discovered that in playgrounds where the outdoor temperature reaches over 30 degrees, the surface of the asphalt exceeded 50 degrees. That heat gets released back into the air and can make playground temperatures unbearable, especially if there is no breeze.

Today, however, there is a whole variety of different playground surfacing available and most of these come in a range of different colours. Choosing a lighter colour for sun trap areas can help regulate air temperature on hot days.

3. Add greenery

Using trellises and planters to add some greenery to a playground can also help moderate temperatures. By adding a touch of nature, you create a microclimate in your playground. Not only do living walls, climbers and plants provide shade to people, they stop surfaces getting hot and warming up the air in the playground. In addition, plants also go through the process of evapotranspiration, where water is released and then evaporated into the microclimate to keep it cooler. Adding greenery to school walls helps keep both the playground and the school cooler during the hot summer months.

4. Water play

There’s nothing better when you’re feeling hot than to stick your hands into cold water. It has an instant cooling and refreshing effect. Having water in the playground also helps keep the area cooler as it absorbs heat from the air and cools through evaporation.

The great thing about water play is that it’s fun and kids just love to do it. Thankfully, there are quite a few ways to introduce this into your playground, such as sand and water play and magnetic water walls. If you have a nature area, you can also add a water feature.

5. Pergolas

A pergola is a great way to add shade that lets some of the sunlight through. With planters, you can grow climbers up the side and across the beams to create a beautifully dappled area for children to cool off in. There are now pergolas specially designed for schools, large enough to accommodate whole groups of pupils, some with planters or shaded covers built in. There are even large pergolas that come with seating and decked floors.

6. Sail shades

Sail shades are a great way to protect children from the sun during summer and give shelter from the rain for the rest of the year. Cost-effective for what they achieve, many schools have incorporated them into their playground designs. With the largest sail shades covering up to 64 square metres, they offer protection for lots of children while enabling them to keep playing.

7. Shelters

Perfect for both outdoor lessons and shaded play, the latest playground shelters come in a range of sizes and designs from small play huts to large octagonal shelters that accommodate a whole class of children. What’s more, they provide a range of features to suit the needs of different schools. From simple shelters with just a roof, to more sophisticated versions with decked floors, side walls and built-in seating. A great place to keep children protected from the sun on hot days and somewhere to keep a little bit warmer and drier during autumn and winter.

Conclusion

Keeping children cool and protected from UV is important during the hottest days of the school year. Hopefully, these tips have shown you that there are plenty of ways you can make your playground environment more comfortable and safer for your pupils.

For more information, visit our Products page.

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